Giant Campus is virtually everywhere

Pete Findley saw the writing on the wall. Or rather, the pixels on the screen. After spending a decade building Giant Campus from a scrappy start-up into a nationwide network of technology summer camps for kids, the inaugural Business Plan Competition champ floated the company’s first online course in 2005. Findley (BA 1998) envisioned a giant campus for the Internet age, a virtual school majoring in technology, science, engineering, and innovation courses that are all too often unavailable to teens attending thinly populated rural schools, cash-strapped urban districts, or who are home-schooled.

It took a few years for technology to catch up. But today broadband is pervasive, Web-based education delivery is rapidly becoming mainstream, and Giant Campus is virtually everywhere. “We’ve been waiting for this time,” Findley says. “Education has evolved, and we believe that we can transform the way specialized education is delivered, particularly to high school students.”

The company offers an accredited program with an array of online elective courses in computer science, digital arts, and business innovation—plus a core curriculum of language arts, math, science, and social studies. Through Giant Campus Academy, the curriculum is available on a tuition basis to high school students around the world (and is free for students in Washington, thanks to a partnership with the state Board of Education).

By shedding the constraints of camps and classrooms, Giant Campus offers students both accessibility and affordability. And the company is rapidly becoming the essential framework for such education providers such as Kaplan, K12 and Insight, as well as other state public school districts.

“We’re basically the ‘Intel Inside’ for every online school operating today. We provide them the curriculum and, many times, the teachers,” Findley says. “In five years, I expect to see us in a lot of school districts in a lot of state systems.”

Brass Media: philanthropy before you’re wealthy

How’s this for brass? Bryan Sims has committed the majority of his future earnings to philanthropy—and he’s just 27. Ambitiously joining an A-list of multi-billionaires in their highly publicized Giving Pledge, the founder and CEO of brass|MEDIA says it’s all in keeping with his fast company’s philosophy: “Young today, rich tomorrow.”

Brass|MEDIA is dedicated to helping young people—those 15- to 25-year olds known as “millennials”—understand money and learn to handle it responsibly. That effort builds around brass|MAGAZINE, a lifestyle money magazine written by young people for young people, and cleverly distributed to nearly half a million readers in partnership with a nationwide network of credit unions that has everything to gain from a fiscally savvy generation of up-and-comers.

Sims defines himself as a “regular guy doing something worth doing.” After watching his own family struggle through adversity, he founded brass|MEDIA in his Oregon State University dorm room at age 19. He partnered with Brent Sumner, an undergraduate friend at the University of Washington, to enter the UW Business Plan Competition, and the team sailed through to the Final Round. After college, Sims quickly led brass|MEDIA to Inc. magazine’s list of the 500 fastest growing private companies. In 2007 BusinessWeek named him one of its “25 Best Entrepreneurs Under 25.”

Sims may be a bit older now, but he still wants what his own audience wants: to make money, invest wisely, give back. But he’s also a willing role model.

“I’ve always known I was going to make a major contribution to charity when got older,” Sims says of his attention-getting pledge. “But I thought that if I started to tell people about it early on, it might have a compounding effect on long-term philanthropy.”

Check it out: www.brassmedia.com

Let Climate Solutions be part of your business solution

Guest blog post by Rita Brogan, CEO of PRR

RitaBroganWe all know the song, “I get by with a little help from my friends.” Building a business is all about relationships.  The conundrum of many minority-owned businesses is how to build those relationships with people for whom there is no history of social interaction. 

What do you have in common with successful and established business people in the emerging green economy? Plenty. Fundamentally, you share a mission and a commitment to a better and healthier planet. This provides a common cause that can only strengthen with broad and diverse support. Many of the most exciting companies in the local clean energy economy are minority-owned or have key managers from the minority community. And there are opportunities for every type of business.

It’s easier than you think. 

I recently had a chance to chat with Ross Macfarlane who is the senior advisor for business partnerships at the Seattle-based organization Climate Solutions. He observed that, “Global warming is a fundamental issue of our time. The transition from dirty energy to clean energy is happening.  It is now not a question of whether we will make this transition, but whether Northwest businesses can lead in attracting jobs and finding profitable opportunities.” He added, “We are working with businesses, environmentalists, government and public interest groups to lead that transition.”

Climate Solutions offers a range of educational, business support and policy advocacy programs.  They also work with other coalitions to advance the fight against global warming. He offered some interesting tidbits of information:

  • The “Business Leaders for Climate Solutions” network of more than 800 business executives and entrepreneurs is a way for those who share a common mission to lead rather than follow to engage on policy, education and networking.  Membership is free, and the Climate Solutions website posts a calendar of events of interest.
  • Many other great organizations partner closely with Climate Solutions and also provide opportunities.  For example, NW Energy Angels provides opportunities to network with potential  investors and get additional tips about how to get financing. Local businesses should also check out the Clean Energy Committee of the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce, which is working to boost participation by minority businesses in these opportunities. 
  • Climate Solutions authored a report that highlights many of the most important opportunities in this sector: “Carbon Free Prosperity 2025.” This report identifies some of the  most promising business-development opportunities that will be in the fields of energy-efficient green building design,  smart grid and information technology, advanced biofuels and biomaterials and clean energy.  A statewide effort, the Clean Energy Leadership Council, will be completing a report later this fall that highlights key sectors and outlines an action plan for making this a more robust part of our economy.

In the meantime, Climate Solutions continues to advocate on the policy side for new financing options, revolving loan funds and stimulus-related resources for green businesses.  It wants to hear from businesses what will help create jobs and drive investment in this sector.

The key to success?  Make sure that you are providing as much to your business relationships as they provide to you. Climate Solutions provides an opportunity for you to contribute by helping lead the way to a green economy.

Rita Brogan is the CEO of PRR, a public affairs and communications firm based in Seattle that is nationally recognized for its work in social marketing, public involvement, and community building. PRR is one of Washington’s 50 largest minority-owned businesses. Brogan was a recent recipient of the Foster School’s Business and Economic Development Center Asian/Pacific Islander Business Leadership Award. She writes the BEDC Brogan blog series twice a month, focusing on green economy issues with an emphasis on ways that businesses owned by people of color or women can create a competitive advantage.

Foster MBA explores Rwanda post graduation

Guest post by Foster alumnus Jim Bullock (MBA 2010)

So, what comes to mind when you think of Rwanda?  Maybe you think of the ethnic tension that culminated in the tragic events of 1994. Maybe you think of poachers in the jungle, hunting mountain gorillas for their heads and skins. Maybe you think of a rapidly developing economy and see opportunity. If you’re like me, you’re not really sure what to think. I guess I thought of all those things and a million more before my flight touched down in Rwanda’s capital city of Kigali almost two weeks ago. Now I’m sitting in a sophisticated café, sipping a café au lait, and trying to put this tiny African nation into a category: an impossible task.

A snapshot of my current life – international work and travels

I finished graduate school at the Foster School of Business at the University of Washington a few months ago. Before that I worked as an engineer, mostly in California. While at Foster, I received an offer to work with an NGO called Rwanda Girls Initiative (RGI) in order to help them with their business operations. Soon after accepting a three-month position with RGI in Rwanda, I was selected for a fellowship that offered me funding for eight months of international travel. Naturally, I decided to do both. I plan to work with RGI for the next three months before embarking on eight months of independent travel. Now here I am, 12 days into the journey, with almost eleven-months lying in front of me.

It’s hard for me to succinctly explain what attracted me to the Rwanda Girls Initiative and Bonderman Fellowship. Promoting gender equality, meeting people from around the world, providing education in rural Africa, wanderlust, a guilty “western” conscious, curiosity…hey, take your pick or make up another reason. Suffice to say it seemed like a once in a lifetime experience for me to make a real impact in a very interesting way. There’s nothing I would rather be doing right now.

After a week I’ve got some stories about the business culture, regional politics, the Kigali Memorial Center, friendly locals, restaurants and cafes, and of course my neighbor’s rooster (who likes to wake me up at 4:30am). But sadly I’m about done with my coffee and it’s time for me to catch a moto-taxi home. I’ll write again someday soon. Until then, murabeho.

Jim Bullock (MBA 2010) is a UW Foster School of Business graduate, consultant for Rwanda Girls Initiative and recipient of an international travel University of Washington Bonderman Fellowship.

UW Foster students win silver at national accounting competition

A team of Foster accounting students won second place in the national KPMG-sponsored Association of Latino Professionals in Finance & Accounting (ALPFA) competition in Florida this August. The UW was one of only 28 schools invited to participate in KPMG’s prestigious national competition.

accounting_competition_2010The Foster team, Richard Clough, Nick Colmenero, Marilu Cruz, Vincente Silva and Veronica Talavera, received a case study about Alcoa Corporation in January 2010. For six months, the students worked on an in-depth analysis of Alcoa’s strategic risks, business processes and accounting issues. They made recommendations to Alcoa’s audit committee, and suggested ways the company could manage strategic risks. Case questions included complex probing on financial derivatives, hedging activities, risk assessment and management as well as corporate governance.  In August 2010, the team traveled to Florida and presented their case findings to a panel of KPMG judges at the ALPFA convention.  After winning second place, the UW team was honored at the convention’s leadership luncheon. 

The ALPFA convention provided the students an opportunity to network with accounting professionals and attend Microsoft Excel learning sessions. They also explored potential career paths at a national job fair.

Foster’s 2010 team had three mentors: UW faculty member Patricia Angell, KPMG manager Matt Quint and Foster graduate Jacob Brownfield.

Global health gets global business make-over by Foster MBAs

With more than $4 billion in activity among 190 nonprofit organizations, such as PATH and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Seattle has become a magnet for people driving solutions to the health and wellbeing of the poorest people on Earth.

Since the University of Washington Foster School of Business also attracts individuals who seek to make a difference, it was only a matter of time before those crowds mingled.

Take winter quarter 2010, when the Foster School’s year-long Global Business Forum focused on global health and development. Among the 20 speakers brought into the MBA-level forum was Lisa Cohen, executive director of Washington Global Health Alliance, an organization established in 2007 to promote issues and improve collaboration between the dozens of Washington-based global health groups.

“There has been a tremendous increase in funding of global health activities,” Cohen said in a recent interview, “but the great struggle for a nonprofit in global heath is sustainability. When I told that to the class, they asked, ‘What can we do?’ I said, ‘I need a business model.’ ”

“The Foster Four” create road map for global health

In addition to a Gates Foundation grant, the Alliance is funded through membership dues of other well-known organizations such as Seattle Biomedical Research Institute and the University of Washington Department of Global Health.

Three full-time Alliance employees, including Cohen, operate like a start-up with early investors who want results – a start-up with a bold mission: “… engage in, and advocate for, Washington state as a center for global health on the world stage.”

When Foster MBA students Bala Balamurugan, David Cohen, Colin Hanna and Jason Moll (aka “The Foster Four”) heard Lisa Cohen’s talk about the Alliance, they were immediately intrigued with the possibility of putting their business education to work for the nonprofit.

“There is a lot of buzz about global health in Seattle and we saw an opportunity to get to know that whole sector through one very influential point of contact,” said Hanna (Evening MBA 2010).

“We want to make a bigger impact than just working for an organization that is trying to maximize profit,” said David Cohen (MBA 2010). “This was an opportunity to add life to an organization that is trying to make a much bigger difference in the world.”

Not only did The Foster Four (who were given the nickname by leaders in the Seattle global health realm) spend 15 hours a week for nearly 12 weeks consulting for the Alliance and meeting with the organization’s crew and community supporters, but they produced a final report that Lisa Cohen says will be a road-map for growing the nonprofit.

“I have been astounded by their personal dedication,” said Lisa Cohen. “I felt so confident that I had them present their report to my executive board, which is all the top leaders in global health in this region including the Gates Foundation.”

Making a difference (squared)

“It became clear to us right away that the Alliance is making a ton of impact but, with relatively minor changes from a business standpoint, they could do a lot more,” David Cohen said.

“It is a classic start-up environment,” said Balamurugan, who works at Microsoft while attending Foster’s Evening MBA Program. “How do you sustain it? How do you deliver value and keep going?”

The Alliance is not resting on the assumption that its grant from the Gates Foundation will be renewed. Lisa Cohen and her team plan to continue to push for success and prove their worth.

The Foster students’ eight-page report, titled “Roadmap to Sustainability” and signed “The Foster Four,” is a succinct and elegant analysis with recommendations covering everything from a new membership model and performance metrics to the Alliance’s nonprofit legal structure. For example, on the revenue generating side, the students propose increasing fees for the executive members. Some of those members have agreed that was the right move. They also propose adding a basic membership for other nonprofits with fees on a sliding scale, as well as opening doors for companies to sponsor events.

“There is a real push to achieve impact at scale,” Lisa Cohen said. “Rather than just a single project in a single village, the challenge is, What can we do for a country? What can we do for a continent?”

That incredible challenge – improving the lives of potentially hundreds of millions of people – held a deep attraction for The Foster Four.

“I think there is increasing interest among MBA students in this blurring of the lines between the business world and the nonprofit world,” added Hanna.

About the project, David Cohen concluded: “This has been the most rewarding and worthwhile experience of my MBA.”

Urban Enterprise Center: advocating for multiculturalism AND sustainability

Guest post by Rita Brogan, CEO of PRR

RitaBroganWhether you belong to the Urban Enterprise Center (UEC) or not, you benefit from its programs and vision. Established in 1993 as the multicultural business arm of the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce, its focus is to build and nurture cross-cultural economic relationships for the benefit of all.

At the UEC sustainability is considered as an ethical and systemic response to the type of fragmented thought in the “old” culture that traditionally allowed people to marginalize and abuse resources without considering impacts on the whole planet.

The UEC applies this holistic thinking to business and economic development with educational resources, job skills training, business literacy, multicultural marketing, cross-cultural business development, policy advocacy and personal development.  “We can help folks to focus on specific job skills, training and knowledge for a career or to establish a green-oriented business,” says Dr. Skip Rowland, executive director.

Dr. Rowland explains, “The whole civil rights issue is about reducing the marginalization of people, because doing so damages our whole society. We need to also think about how marginalized thinking damages our air, water and land.”

The UEC has formed strategic partnerships with scores of organizations that include Enterprise Seattle, Prosperity Partnership, and scores of multicultural organizations.  UEC makes connections by raising awareness of minority-owned businesses and helping businesses expand their customer bases to multi-cultural markets.  Currently, the UEC has about 12 committees of volunteers who focus on a range of issues relevant to communities and businesses of color.

“The act of being green reminds us of a way of thinking about how life on the planet is meant to be lived,” says Dr. Rowland.  “Green is where the economy must go to sustain our planet.” For more information about the Urban Enterprise Center, call 206.389.7231.

Rita Brogan is the CEO of PRR, a public affairs and communications firm based in Seattle that is nationally recognized for its work in social marketing, public involvement, and community building. PRR is one of Washington’s 50 largest minority-owned businesses. Brogan was a recent recipient of the Foster School’s Business and Economic Development Center Asian/Pacific Islander Business Leadership Award. She writes the BEDC Brogan blog series twice a month, focusing on green economy issues with an emphasis on ways that businesses owned by people of color or women can create a competitive advantage.

Microsoft’s cloud platform becomes an MBA sandbox

The MBA field study group assigned to Microsoft Cloud poses with their certificates.By the time Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer came to the University of Washington in March 2010 to tell the world that he was betting the company on cloud computing, four Foster School of Business MBA candidates already had their heads in the company’s cloud.

Second-year MBA students James Berres, Chris Coffman, Winnie Lin and Scott Macy consulted with Microsoft during winter quarter through Foster’s Field Study Program. The program matches companies that have a complex business problem with Foster MBAs, who form a team and attack the problem to gain experience.

In November 2009, Microsoft proposed several cloud computing projects through the Field Study Program. In a competitive bidding and intense screening process, Foster MBAs won the right to delve into the newest wave of computing with Microsoft.

Cloud computing defined

Cloud computing can be thought of as “utility computing.” Like a utility company providing electricity, Microsoft will sell companies access to its computing and storage infrastructure comprised of massive data centers located across the globe. Companies will only pay for the computing power they use.

In October 2009, Microsoft unveiled its technology to run the cloud: Windows Azure platform. External developers and others have already started using the operating system.

“We are in that switchover mode where companies might not necessarily have to have their own data centers or pay someone to host their data center,” said Coffman (MBA 2010). “They can just grab the storage and the computing power they need as they need it.”

Why Microsoft needed Foster MBAs

In the software giant’s effort to once more revolutionize computing, Microsoft worked for years and spent hundreds of millions of dollars developing its new operating system and building data centers to support it. Consequently, Microsoft’s internal teams held expert, in-depth knowledge about its new technology.

One thing those teams couldn’t do? Shed their identity.

“Microsoft had a very good understanding of cloud computing. They knew what their technology was. They knew how their internal groups felt about the technology, the risks, the rewards, the benefits, all of that,” said Berres (MBA 2010). “What they didn’t have a good feel for was, what do other large enterprise companies feel about it?”

Basically, Berres explained, when Microsoft asks a company’s chief information officer (CIO) and other IT leaders what they think about the cloud, the answers might reflect that group’s desire to play ball with Microsoft, the biggest “kid” on the block.

“So,” he said, “they brought us in to get that outside perspective.”

The Foster MBA team established a matrix for what questions they would ask and how they would categorize answers, built a list of target companies from their own contacts and through Foster School professors, staff and alumni, then set out to interview leaders of those companies. To help insure objectivity, the team guaranteed anonymity.

From strategy to real-world results

Microsoft’s Mike Olsson, principal solution manager, Product Group Strategic Initiatives, said the students uncovered a surprising attitude.

“Where we might have predicted that cost and security would be the issues that would be top of mind for a CIO, the things people asked about most at first revolved around agility and integration. So there was a little bit of an adjustment for us in the way we looked at customer attitudes in the enterprise IT environment.”

The Foster team also confirmed for the Microsoft team many of the attitudes they expected to see about moving to the cloud.

Another benefit, said Olsson, “is that discussing interesting technical subjects with smart people is a really good thing to do, particularly when they have a new or slightly different viewpoint than we might have internally.”

Jeff Finan, general manager of Microsoft’s Product Group Strategic Initiatives, echoed Olsson’s assessment of the Foster MBAs and added that “in terms of wanting a repeat performance with the University of Washington Foster School, I’m very much in favor of that. The students were just outstanding.”

Being part of the next big technology trend

Students on the MBA team said they knew going in that the field study would give them the opportunity to discuss the next big thing in computing with world leaders. But when Ballmer came to the UW Seattle campus, it really hit them just how pivotal the project was.

“The fact that, just about a week before we gave our final presentation, Ballmer gave his big presentation about the cloud, that Microsoft was ‘all in,’ ” Coffman said, “That told us that, Hey! We are really working on important stuff here.”

Berres added that not only did the field study open doors at Microsoft and sharpen their own understanding of business consulting, but it also put them in front of tech leaders in the biggest and best companies in the country.

“It gave us a reason to go to executives at Fortune 500 companies who otherwise we wouldn’t have a reason to talk to,” Berres said. “So, it not only gave us all of this information, it also gave us contacts we wouldn’t otherwise have.”

Gordon Neumiller, director of the Field Study Program, has organized hundreds of consulting opportunities for second-year MBAs and similar projects for first-years. Nearly 10 years ago he helped the program mature from a student club to a more formal and significant part of the Foster MBA experience.

While the success of Foster MBAs in cloud computing didn’t surprise him, the timeliness and quality of the work made it stand out. With Steve Ballmer saying Microsoft was ‘all in,’ Neumiller said, the project was as leading edge as it gets.

“At the end of the final presentation,” he added, “it was like this big group hug. Everyone was so happy. I said, ‘I don’t know what they are doing at other business schools, but it cannot be any better than this.’ “

MBA study tour: Kenya the magnificent

Guest post by Tarang Shah, Foster MBA student and 2010 study tour participant

kenya3Magnificent is an understatement. The Kenya study tour is, hands down, one of the top 3 MBA experiences I have had at the Foster School of Business. Not surprisingly, this statement echoes the sentiments of a lot of other folks who went with me on this study tour. There is something special about spending two weeks with your classmates, colleagues, and teachers, far away from your homeland, that brings people together to form inseparable bonds.

We visited a breadth of firms and organizations including financial, airline, consumer product, telecommunication, micro-finance, non-profit… and schools. Some us even got a chance to attend a class at the Strathmore Business School, which confirmed that “case discussions” are the way to go in business schools. It also confirmed that the frameworks we learn at the business school stay the same across the continents, but the implementation details vary to accommodate various cultural, economical, geographical, and environmental aspects.

hakimWe had the honor to visit an orphanage in the outskirts of Nairobi. The hope and smiles on the kids’ faces were truly inspirational.

We went on a 3-day safari and saw the Big 5 animals (lions, leopards, elephants, buffalos, and rhinos) in addition to ostriches, zebras, dik diks, hippos, giraffes, gazelles, warthogs and several other animals and birds.

On the last day, Mutua’s (one of our 3 rock-star study tour leaders) parents invited us for lunch at their home and we got to experience the warmth of a traditional Kenyan family. What a perfect way to end this surreal experience. I want to live it again!

 

kenyaThe 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 East Africa, specifically Kenya. They were accompanied by Foster School Assistant Professor of Management Chris Bauman.

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.

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