Keeping it real

Simulated businesses with make-believe P&L statements have no place in Professor John Castle’s “Creating a Company” course at the UW Foster Business School. Here, student businesses are awarded real money and expected to turn a profit in 10 weeks. There’s no text book or PowerPoint lectures. The emphasis is on relentless question and answer, to promote “on your feet” thinking—a necessity for young entrepreneurs.

That’s how Castle likes it. Over the duration of the two-quarter sequence, student teams write a business plan, meet with investors to obtain in-house funding, run the business and then exit the firm at the end of the second quarter. All profits are returned to the fund, which has become self-sustaining over time. Though profitability of the company is a major criterion for grading, the ability of the team to deal with the unexpected is considered more important.

The next Google is not a hoped-for endpoint of this entrepreneurship course, but personal enlightenment and growth certainly is. Castle tells students, “You may or may not learn to be a good entrepreneur here, but you will find out whether you want to be one.” Students learn by starting companies that, among other ideas, sell clothing, promote music events or serve a real and immediate need, as in the case of the MS Children’s Book.

The book was the inspiration of William Khazaal, father of two, who returned to the UW Foster School for his BA at age 33. In 2009 Khazaal was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS). Those with this devastating disease have good days and days when their energy is sapped. On bad days, Khazaal’s kids would be scared and confused, with no resources to help them understand what was happening with their dad. Like any good entrepreneur, Khazaal created one. His team, which included Molly Massena, Zac Raasch, Eugene Kim and Adam Greenberg, produced, printed and sold and donated more than 2,000 copies of MS Children’s Book, a 50-page picture book. The team also generated $12,000—the largest profit in class history.

While Khazaal’s story is uncommon, the take-home message of the course was. “My experience demonstrated the value of working as a team and letting my team members take more of the initiative. I learned how to plan events to get the results I wanted, rather than just jumping into things,” Khazaal reflected.

The book is only the beginning of the story. Khazaal plans to continue the effort past his graduation this fall, with more events to raise money for MS awareness and research.

Study abroad photo contest winners 2011

A picture is worth a thousand words. Every year University of Washington Foster School of Business undergraduate and MBA students study and work abroad as part of their business degree and sometimes the best way to convey the value of those experience is through a photo. The UW Global Business Center held a competition for the best student photos of 2011 travels. Here are the 1st and 2nd place winners in two categories – titles, captions, descriptions written by students:

  1. Foster Abroad: Photo that inspires others to study abroad or makes a statement about the student experience abroad
  2. My Global Lens: Views uniquely accessible to students living abroad – social issues, cultural interactions, city scapes, landscapes, etc.

Foster Abroad – 1st Place (tie): Olivia Arguinchona, undergraduate 
India

Good morning India!
This picture was taken at the Taj Mahal at around 6 AM in the morning. I don’t think there is any other place where I could have been so awake at this hour in the morning.

Experience abroad: This exploration seminar focused on women leadership and entrepreneurship in a country where women are commonly oppressed. Looking back on all I experienced, India has become a symbol of resilience for me. I met so many women who had found a way to lift themselves and their family out of desperate poverty, or who were, in poverty, surviving and planning for the future of their children. Our group delved into the topic of microfinance, something I know hope to pursue once receiving a degree.

Foster Abroad – 1st Place (tie): Olga Kachook, undergraduate
Johannesburg, South Africa

Shadows of Us
Biking through Soweto, one of South Africa’s most culturally rich and diverse townships.

Experience abroad: Life abroad beats to a different drum- restaurants serve food at a snail’s pace, transportation is a chaotic adventure, and many things are lost in translation. Sometimes these changes were exhilarating, and sometimes they were frustrating, but most of the time they just made you stop and question things you take at face value back home. The differences between places and cultures are what usually stand out, but ultimately studying abroad shows you both sides of the coin- not just differences but similarities too. Discovering our similarities to people half way across the world is what makes travel exciting.

Foster Abroad – 2nd Place: Stephan Chung, undergraduate
Cork, Ireland

Reppin’ the DUBYA after win #1
The first of many. UW’s Ireland Exploration Seminar representing the dawg pack in Ireland following our season opening win against the Eastern Eagles. Photo location: Kinsale Harbour

Experience abroad: I decided to go on this business summer exploration to Ireland after hearing raving reviews from everyone I ever talked to who went on the trip. We spent an amazing three weeks visiting large national business and touring Ireland’s cities, towns, and beautiful natural landscape. The Charles’ Fort at Kinsale Harbour where this picture was taken offered breathtaking views of the coast and an interesting piece of Irish history.

My Global Lens – 1st Place: Amanda Hamilton, undergraduate
Ahmedabad, India

Who Runs the World? (Girls)
Empowering a girl empowers the world. Providing education and opportunities to girls around the world is the key to the future. Location: A small, rural village outside Ahmedabad

Experience abroad: Traveling to India was the biggest eye-opener ever. The culture shock and awe-inspiring experience was, at times, overwhelming, but left me thinking so much more deeply about the issues going on in this world. Seeing the stark contrast between the rich and poor and meeting all these amazing women who are taking what they were given and being empowered to be the change in their own lives and communities is so entirely humbling and inspiring. It was amazing to see the people and programs who are truly trying to make a difference by empowering these women and giving them opportunities to affect change around them. The woman in this picture was part of a case study where we went and met with a group of women in a village who had been given solar lanterns and clean cookstoves to improve their lives and daily work.

My Global Lens – 2nd Place: Siena Cairns, undergraduate
Valdivia, Chile

Trapped Miners: 33+
Crawling deep into the suffocating tunnels of Cerro de Potosí showed me there were more than 33 miners living in the dark. Location of photo: Potosí, Bolivia

Experience abroad: The week I arrived in Chile was the week that 33 miners became trapped in the north. Although this was significant international news, it was hardly the only cause for attention across the nation. At that same time, leaders of the indigenous minority, the Mapuche, were entering their second month of a hunger strike and protesters were gathering blocks away from my university. In the midst of national turmoil, Chile was approaching its 200 year celebration as a nation and an election year. I was swept into all of this, and slowly over meals with my host family, classroom discussions, and chats with local friends, my understanding of Chile’s political, social, and cultural history grew until I really began to understand the weight of these pressing issues around me.

Touring the mines and engaging with miners was one of these eye opening experiences. The miners taught me how life in the mines is so demanding that there comes a day when you know little else. In this sense, they become trapped in those deadly tunnels, unable to leave the only lifestyle they know. When I left home to learn Spanish, I never expected to return with such an understanding of this foreign culture too.

See all photos submitted for the contest. Judges included nearly 30 faculty and staff members. Learn more about MBA and undergraduate study and work abroad opportunities via the Global Business Center.

Center for Innovation & Entrepreneurship celebrates first 20 Years

Zino Society CEO Cathi Hatch gives her elevator pitchHow can 17 speakers share their memories of the University of Washington Foster School of Business Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship without running too far into the next decade? Easy: make it an elevator pitch. The one-minute brief used by all good entrepreneurs made it possible for alumni and current students, faculty and leaders from the Seattle business community to reminisce. Here’s what some of them said in their 60 seconds at the podium.

“Innovation is not just for start-ups, but the life-blood for any company. If we were really doing the same thing we did when we opened in 1982 and using the same ingredients, our company would not be leading the competition or even keeping up with them. Judging the Business Plan Competition each year leaves me energized and more creative in my own business.”
Fran Bigelow, owner of Fran’s Chocolates and Foster alumna

“Expertise doesn’t reside entirely within the tech transfer office or the College of Engineering or the business school. For entrepreneurship to flourish, these organizations need to work together to weave entrepreneurship into the fabric of the university. That’s CIE’s role. CIE is at the center of it all.”
Ed Lazowska, Bill & Melinda Gates Chair in Computer Science & Engineering, UW

“We failed horribly twice at the BPC. The third time, we knew what we were doing and took second place. We closed some financing shortly thereafter. Things are going really well. We couldn’t have done it without CIE.”
Brian Glaister, CEO of Cadence Biomedical, UW PhD candidate in mechanical engineering

Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship founder with current director“My interactions with CIE, which include taking entrepreneurship classes through the Technology Entrepreneurship Certificate as well as coordinating events with the Science & Engineering Business Association, have transformed my career path. I’ve discovered my entrepreneurial passion.”
Jeff Chamberlain, PhD student in bioengineering and past president of UW Science & Engineering Business Association

Photos (top to bottom): 1. Cathi Hatch, CEO of ZINO Society, 2. Professor Bud Saxberg, who launched the Center for Innovation & Entrepreneurship in 1991, with Connie Bourassa-Shaw, CIE’s current director

Foster MBAs place 3rd in national ethical leadership competition

A team of MBA students from the University of Washington Foster School of Business took third prize at the fifth-annual MBA Case Competition in Ethical Leadership at Baylor University November 18.

The competition challenges MBAs to demonstrate ethical leadership in a practical business dilemma. This year’s case was based on a recent, real-world, ethics scandal. Teams were charged with creating a path for News Corporation to rebound from its phone-hacking mess and reemerge as an ethical leader in the media industry.

The Foster team of second-year MBAs Krister Fardig, Jeremiah Marks, Jesse Robbins and Henry Vogler recognized that no cosmetic fix would do the job. To address the root problem—an organizational issue with ethics—they recommended that News Corp directors implement what they called the “audit and continuous improvement of ethics (ACE) model.” This external and internal auditing process enables increased accountability, increased visibility and better performance when it comes to managing ethical behavior.

Robbins, a veteran of three case competitions as an undergrad at the Foster School and five in his first year of the Full-Time MBA Program, said that the team was well prepared by the program’s rigorous core curriculum. He also credited Foster’s business ethics professor Scott Reynolds, who armed the team with an ethical framework that helped them identify the solution that hit closest to the sweet spot where technology, strategy and ethics intersect positively.

The Foster MBAs competed with teams from Auburn University, Baylor University, Iowa State University, Pepperdine University, Texas A&M University, University of Florida, University of Illinois, University of Iowa, University of Minnesota and University of Texas. Illinois and Florida took first and second places.

Friends + baseball tickets = an epic idea

Scott Barrows and James Kimmel, co-founders of Epic Seats.
Scott Barrows and James Kimmel, co-founders of Epic Seats.

If you’re dying to go to the sold-out Lady Gaga concert or get a seat on the 50-yard line at the Super Bowl, a Seattle start-up has your back. Epic Seats helps clients buy and sell tickets to all major concert, sporting and theater events throughout North America, and specializes in hard to find tickets, premium locations and sold out events. But what’s more epic than the seats is the company’s commitment to providing exceptional service.

While living in Chicago, Scott Barrows (BA 2000) maintained his Cubs habit by buying extra game tickets and reselling them on eBay. As luck would have it, his longtime friend and fellow CIE alum James Kimmel (MBA 2005) was doing the same thing with Mariners tickets in Seattle. The two decided to pool their assets—two $10,000 credit cards—and started Epic Seats together in 2003. Two years later they competed in the UW Business Plan Competition, making it to the Sweet 16. In a marketplace that included hundreds of other companies selling the same product, Barrows and Kimmel knew they’d need to differentiate themselves early on and focus on their core competencies: customer service and innovation.

“Our number one goal has always been to be the most customer-centric company in our industry,” says Barrows. “Many companies choose profits over clients, and we’ll always do the opposite.” Kimmel echoes that sentiment. “Any brand equity we have as an organization is directly attributable to our customer base and what they say about us to their friends and associates. For seven years we have relied on referrals and positive word of mouth as our primary form of marketing,” says Kimmel. One need only do a quick search for Epic Seats online to see their strategy is working; customer after customer raves about what great customer service they’ve received.

Case in point: about a year after going into business, Epic Seats purchased 16 ticket packages through a travel company for the BCS title game between the Texas Longhorns and USC Trojans and resold 12 of them for a nice profit, holding on to four for themselves and a couple of friends. When they arrived at the hotel, they found the travel company had oversold the packages and was cancelling them, simply telling people they’d refund their purchase price. Rather than do the same to their clients who had brought their families to Pasadena for the game, Barrows and Kimmel scrambled to find new hotel rooms and plenty of tickets so their clients could all go to the game. “We ended up losing $20,000 and had to stay in a dumpy motel and watch the game at Hooters, but we just decided that was going to be who we are,” says Barrows.

Epic Seat’s other core value is to always be innovating and with two life-long entrepreneurs at the helm, it’s easy to see where that comes from. In recent years, the company expanded to include Epic Inventory Management, providing back-end operations—everything from customer service to order processing and shipping—to small and medium-sized ticket brokerages around the country. Epic is also gearing up to launch TicketsThatGive in June, a new venture that will allow charities and foundations to raise money via a promotional code for any ticket sales generated by their constituents.

Kimmel’s advice for young entrepreneurs is to “follow your passion and if you can make a living doing what you love, it’s well worth the risk of striking out on your own.” Barrows echoes that point, adding that entrepreneurs shouldn’t be afraid to fail. “I’ve had probably 11 start-ups, and this is the first one that’s been successful. I just knew that if I kept at it, eventually I’d be successful.”

From local to national design—UW students progress on hybrid car

Guest post by Trevor Crain, UW engineering student and Environmental Innovation Challenge winner

The Voltaic team is finishing up its sixth month of participation in the US Department of Energy and General Motors-sponsored EcoCAR2 competition. It’s been a wild ride!

There’s been some really excellent work done the last few months as we tackle difficult automotive engineering challenges. We’ve considered a myriad of complex plug-in hybrid vehicle architectures for our Chevy Malibu along with all the drivetrain components required for each, simulated the performance of each of those configurations and selected the ideal vehicle design for our team down to every major drivetrain component. We also began work on the system for the vehicle that monitors and controls most of the systems of the hybrid vehicle.

And while we’re doing all of this, we were building a research lab from scratch from four to more than 40 members, and traveling to Detroit five times for training from the competition sponsors. We haven’t had too much free time, but seeing our vehicle and program start taking shape makes it all worthwhile. And we get the amazing opportunity to work with real automotive companies to develop a production-level hybrid prototype, while helping train our team’s engineers to make the vehicles of the future.

This unforgettable experience of being in EcoCAR2 started when we competed in and won the Environmental Innovation Challenge (EIC) last year. The relationships we built during the EIC, both with faculty and team members helped us get where we are today. One of our faculty advisors, University of Washington Professor Per Reinhall  first alerted us to EcoCAR2. Along with UW Professor Brian Fabien, he’s continuing to help our team succeed. Rich Wurden, Kerwin Loukusa and Trevor Fayer, members  from the Voltaic EIC project team, are team leaders now and doing a great job.

Overall, we’re having an awesome time on the design process. We can’t wait to get our vehicle running!

Read the Seattle Times article on UW team’s progress in the national car-design competition. Learn how the UW Foster School of Business Environmental Innovation Challenge helps new ventures seed a greener economy.

Video: CEO Dave Roberts on PopCap Games success and luck

To be successful in business, Dave Roberts says you have to be good, smart and lucky. You don’t expect to hear luck invoked as a key factor by the CEO of a company—PopCap Games—that was just sold for up to $1.3 billion. Classic CEO talking points include lingo such as “We were in the right place at the right time.” That kind of message implies that founders were in control of external events.

But Dave Roberts clearly said the “L” word—and for gamers everywhere, luck is a very powerful force. PopCap makes the blockbuster games Bejeweled and Plants vs. Zombies with a mix of creativity, business savvy and luck.

Capping the 2011 University of Washington Entrepreneur Week, Roberts shared PopCap Games’ growth timeline in the rapidly evolving landscape of social media and mobile devices. Watch highlights of his lecture.

- Faculty perspectives, alumni happenings, student experiences, Seattle and Pacific Northwest community connections, and a taste of life around the Foster School.