You’re in charge–now what?

EMBA Panel
Left to right: EMBA student Christy Bermensolo and alums Vetri Vellore, Kevin Conroy, and René Ancinas shared insights at the Forum on Leadership and the Executive MBA.

Three Foster Executive MBA alumni and one current student, all of whom are CEOs at mid-career, shared their experiences on the challenges and rewards of leadership with an attentive audience of students, prospective students and alumni on January 29.

The four came to their leadership roles in different ways. Kevin Conroy (EMBA 2004), president and founder of Blue Rooster, has been self-employed since 1990 and has started several companies. René Ancinas (EMBA 2009), president and CEO at Port Blakely Companies, and Christy Bermensolo (EMBA 2015), CEO at Engineered Software, Inc., assumed leadership of family-owned companies fairly recently–Christy just last year. Vetri Vellore (EMBA 2006), CEO and co-founder at Chronus Corporation, started his company in 2007 after a successful 14-year career at Microsoft.

René and Christy found getting comfortable in the leadership role especially challenging. Both said the advice and guidance they received from mentors inside and outside their organizations, including EMBA classmates, had been tremendously helpful. They both quickly realized their responsibilities required the ability to manage change. For René, the challenge was growth–unusual for a family business, he said. For Christy, it was the need to adopt a style of management different from her parents’ intensely hands-on approach.

All the panelists said finding mentors who offer sound advice and counsel was a key priority, no matter how long they had been in the lead. Kevin spoke about his recent experience recruiting a board of directors, and how much he had learned in the process of preparing to take his business to the next level. René looked to his board, experienced staff members and colleagues in the Young Presidents Organization. Velore sought out executives who he considered 3-5 years ahead of him in their development.

Christy offered some insight into the reason all these leaders had chosen to enroll in Foster’s Executive MBA Program. Preparing to assume her new role, Christy–an engineer by training and analytical by nature–developed a spreadsheet listing expertise that she figured she would need in order to handle the CEO job effectively. She quickly realized her list closely matched the curriculum of the Executive MBA Program. That made one of her first big decisions an easy one.

Science & Technology Showcase highlights student innovations

Many students at the University of Washington are working on science and technology-based innovations that have potential for commercialization. The annual Science & Technology Showcase (co-hosted by the Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship and SEBA) is a tradeshow-like event where students have the opportunity to share these innovations with an audience of fellow scientists and engineers, as well as to business students interested in working on the marketability of new technologies.

STS participants also have the opportunity to pitch their ideas to a panel of judges—Seattle-area entrepreneurs and investors—who give awards to the most commercially viable ideas, along with prizes for categories like “Best Poster” and “Most Enthusiastic Pitch.”

Congratulations to this year’s award winners:

$1,000 Grand Prize: Flu Finder
The Flu Finder is an inexpensive, easy-to-use, rapid and accurate flu test that operates similarly to a home pregnancy test, providing a yes/no answer from a swab of the patient’s nose.

$500 Second-Place Prize: ElectroMetal Solutions
ElectroMetal Solutions has developed a new approach to plating metals onto surfaces using metal ions dissolved in water—a technology that may be of use to industrial manufacturers who require precise applications of high-cost metal materials (think gold).

$300 Third-Place Prize: Find Nano
FindNano has developed a rapid, simple, affordable and portable technology to assess the presence of nonparticles in liquid samples (e.g. blood, rivers), solid surfaces (e.g. soil, food), and textiles.

Best Poster: Terra Mizu
TerraMizu’s goal is to design an environmentally-friendly and cost-effective clay-pipe irrigation device for use in developing nations.

Most Innovative: Seahorse Robotic
In order to more accurately develop oceanographic  weather forecasting models there needs to be a higher density and quality of measurements supplied by observation platforms on the ocean’s surface. Seahorse Robotic oceanographic platform was created as part of an ongoing attempt to design energy-independent surface vehicles.

Most Enthusiasm: GO+OD
GO+OD is a process and program developed to encourage millenials—the most civic-minded age group—to “go + do good.”

Best Communicator: H2.O
H2.O is developing a patent-pending technology that uses water as a medium to convert ambient infared radiation energy into electricity.

Best Marketing Strategy: ElectroMetal Solutions
(see above)

Living your academia: marketing/management 445 class for undergraduates

Senior Ivette Aguilera reflects on her experience in the Marketing/Management 445 Class and Student Consulting Program.

Ivette Aguilera with Bill Low
Ivette Aguilera, BA 2014, with Bill Low, her Rotary Business Mentor at the Rotary Club of Seattle luncheon.

Throughout my time in Foster, I have lived through so many incredible experiences, including two study abroad opportunities to China and India, where I was able to see and experience major business practices that were very different when compared to the United States. I have also interned with PricewaterhouseCoopers, one of the Big Four accounting firms worldwide, and this coming summer will be my third summer internship with them.

Growing up, I first wanted to be a doctor.  I pictured myself analyzing patients, checking their symptoms, figuring out the root of their problems, and of course finding their cure. After watching shows like Grey’s Anatomy, House, and other medical television shows I realized that the concept of helping others was fantastic, but the idea of having physical contact with my patients was not so much—yet I still wanted to become a doctor and that is when consulting became a true interest of mine. My patients would not be human beings, but companies; I would not be checking for common colds or flus but for holes in company’s’ operation systems and pitch marketing plans to execute. I would be the doctor for businesses, Dr. Aguilera; which I believe has a nice ring to it.

Unfortunately, after multiple conversations with consultants, I soon realized that in order to be a great consultant you really need experience. It isn’t something you can’t pick up from a book; it is a learning process.  The Consulting and Business Development Center offers students the Marketing/Management 445 class that is specifically designed to help students develop the essential business skills by having them be consultants for a real life company. It is an opportunity to get real hands-on exposure and live your academia, instead of just reading about it.

Through this process I have learned how to interact with my client, how to manage a successful meeting, and I have gotten to know the resources of the University of Washington both on and off campus. One of our most valued resources being the Rotary Mentor assigned to each group. My team has the privilege of having Bill Low as our mentor, and I actually would like to take this opportunity to thank Bill for his mentorship. Just last week we were preparing a survey for our client’s customers.  Our team thought our survey had well thought out questions, but when we showed it to Bill he opened our eyes to see that the questions were way too broad.  In order to understand the client’s problems we had to develop much more specific survey questions. Let’s just say that from now on our team is thinking a lot more about the specific details for EVERY assignment.

As I said before, this coming summer I’ll be an intern with PriceWaterhouseCoopers’ Advisory Line of Service. At the end of the summer my performance review will determine if I get a full time offer starting January 2015. However, thanks to the Marketing/Management 445 class, I feel much more confident and prepared with what I am doing. What I’m learning this quarter will definitely give me a head start on my work this summer.

This class continues to challenge me in ways that significantly improve my consulting skills set. It has given me a chance to network with professionals who have passed down their wisdom, and more importantly it has allowed me to make mistakes and learn from them along the way. So thank you to the professors, the Consulting and Business Development Center, the mentors, and the Rotary Club of Seattle for allowing us, (the students) to make mistakes yet continue to learn from them.

From concrete bunker to startup hub

CondonHallSince 2003, Condon Hall, former home of the UW Law School, has sat half-empty, providing temporary overflow space for various departments. Soon, Condon Hall will  become Startup Hall, a home-base for promising early-stage companies and the hub of what’s expected to be Seattle’s next hot startup district.

Startup Hall was the brainchild of a core committee of UW and entrepreneurial community leaders, including Paul Jenny, vice provost of the Office of Planning and Budget, and Chris DeVore, the director of Techstars and chair of the City of Seattle’s Economic Development Commission. It’s the first step in what will be a multi-year effort to transform the University District into a thriving entrepreneurial hub.

“It’s clear that this area is going to see major changes over the next 10+ years,” says DeVore, citing a recent economic study and the light rail build-out to the U-District that has stations slated to open in 2016 and 2021. The neighborhood’s anticipated improvements, along with its proximity to the UW, an institution buzzing with entrepreneurial energy, will make it a logical place for innovative businesses to put down roots.

The question has been, says DeVore, “what will it take to get these innovative, high-growth businesses to choose the U-District for their next office move?” The answer: Startup Hall. DeVore explains, “By beginning to shift early-stage startup activity to the neighborhood—with Startup Hall as the catalyst, but with the bigger goal of filling as much existing office space as possible with innovation-based companies—we’ll begin to integrate the university and the neighborhood with the innovation community.”

TechStars and UP Global,  Startup Hall’s first anchor tenants, will share an atrium-like space on the north side of the building. Across the hall, an open co-working space will house up to 20 small, early-stage tech companies. The building will also have an office for UW programs, including the Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship, plus spaces for meeting, eating, and the occasional Ping-Pong match. The entire structure has been redesigned to facilitate creativity and collaboration. With any luck, Start-Up Hall will open the U-District to a flood of ideas and new ventures. Who knows? In a few years, students might pass by the next Google or Amazon on their way to campus.

Undergrads meet alumni at networking night

The Foster Alumni Relations team hosted a networking night as a way for alumni and current undergraduates to connect. Twenty-five alumni and 100 students attended. The event allowed young alumni to contribute to the Foster community by connecting with students and sharing their stories, while also building their professional network with other Foster alumni. As for the students, Zak Sheerazi, Assistant Director of Career Development at the Foster School, said, “This event gives them better insight into different careers as they move forward from Foster. But the ultimate goal is to connect current students with past student in order to help them navigate the transition from academics to the world of work. And potentially down the road have a mentor.”

Check out our photo blog of the event below.

Undergrads meet alumni at networking night

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$120,000 awarded to student-led startups

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Z Girls co-presidents Libby Ludlow and Jilyne Higgins present their progress to a panel of judges

The Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship’s Jones + Foster Accelerator is a TechStars-like program that helps student-led startups get off the ground.

This year, five teams completed the six-month accelerator program, identifying and meeting milestones with the guidance of top entrepreneurs, lawyers and investors from Seattle’s entrepreneurial community.  From July 2013 to February 2014 they worked to build their teams, develop their services or technologies, get their products to market, and raise early-stage funding.

On February 4, the five teams made final presentations to a panel of judges and were awarded up to $25,000 in follow-on funding to pursue their next set of milestones.

  • PolyDropPolyDrop manufactures additives that transform regular coatings (think paint) into conductive coatings that dissipate static electricity and prevent interference caused by electric current flow.  PolyDrop has been awarded a Commercialization Gap Fund grant of $50,000 and a National Science Foundation STTR grant of $225,000, providing the funds necessary for 2014 operations and develop a prototype proving the viability of their product.
  • PureBluePure Blue Technologies, a water treatment technology company that provides visible light photo disinfection and desalination technology, is currently finalizing a license with the UW Center for Commercialization. The company has negotiated lab space with Ondine biomedical and has a term sheet for up to $1.5 million in equity funding, which will give them 18 months of runway to cover additional research and development and get them to the pilot stage.
  • ZGirlsZ Girls educates female athletes ages 11-14 on the mental and emotional skills important in sports and life. The company has received a $100,000 convertible note, raised $50,000 to provide scholarships for girls who demonstrate need, and hired 27 program leaders (all college or pro-level female athletes). In the last six months 182 girls have gone through Z Girls’ Seattle-based programs. (Check out Z Girls’ promotional videos on their website!)
  • StudentRNDStudentRND runs programs aimed at educating students (middle-school through college) about programming and engineering.  The nonprofit has created an advisory board, raised over $135,000 in sponsorships, and put together an operations plan that includes hosting 20 Code Days in Spring 2014.
  • LuckyStepsLuckySteps, a wellness program for companies and their employees, has raised $30,000 in the past six months. The company is working with a UW Human Centered Design and Engineering group on a usability study and has run beta tests with four prospective clients in order to prove its business model and pricing structure. Lucky Steps plans to wow the judges in this year’s UW Business Plan Competition.

The art of failing

This event was hosted by Neal Dempsey, the Foster School’s visiting 2013-2014 Edward V. Fritzky Chair in Leadership.

art-of-failing-eventFailure is part of life. In fact, success often starts with failure. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t hard or painful. On January 21, a panel at the Foster School tackled the art of failing. The panelists were Steve Singh, CEO of Concur; Sean Dempsey, founder and general partner of Merus Capital; and Emilia Griswold, Foster MBA, Class of 2014. Bruce Avolio, professor of management and executive director of Foster’s Center for Leadership and Strategic Thinking, moderated the discussion.

The discussion covered a range of topics and often oscillated between risk, failure and success. It’s difficult to have real success without risk and the potential for failure. There was also an emphasis on the ability to adapt to change, particularly when faced with the potential for failure.

Griswold spoke about changing her strategy for finding an internship after several months of no success. Ultimately, she was successful in landing an internship because she approached her goal from a broader view and was willing to risk failure. She said this experience taught her three things:

  1. Focus on the goal. She came to the MBA Program as career changer. For her, conducting informational interviews with people who had successful career paths, not people who worked at a particular company, was most effective.
  2. Believe in yourself. If you’re trying to convince someone else you can do something before you have convinced yourself, it won’t work.
  3. Embrace risk. Look for opportunities that scare you—ones where you could actually fail.

In order to cope with risk, you have to possess the patience and persistence to work until it pays off. Dempsey said, whether you are building your career or a company, “You should be short-term impatient and long-term patient.” In other words, you have to keep moving forward on a day to day basis, but you also have to realize change happens over time. Persistence, even in the face of failure, is critical for success.

Trying to accomplish a goal too quickly can also lead to failure, especially if you don’t consider the big picture. Instead of making decisions based on the next 90 days, Singh, who has been the CEO of Concur for over 20 years, said he considers the impact of his decisions on the next five to ten years. He said he realized, “There are goals along the way, but there is no end goal.” For him, getting to success is a long-term process. He tells his team, “Your job is to define the world the way it should be defined. Not in the way that is best for you, not in the way where you get the most value out of it, but the way it should be.” Once you figure that out, he said, “You step back and think about how you get from here to there.”

When implementing what you’ve defined as the way the world should be, be prepared to face challenges and failure. Dempsey likened this process to being at the top of a black diamond ski run. From the top, it looks long and intimidating and there are obstacles to overcome, but he said, “The thing to do is only worry about what you can control.” From there, the strategy is to take it one step at a time.

The panelists also talked about how failing can be the ultimate teaching tool, and they pointed out that not failing is also risky—it means you’re not challenging yourself. Click on the video below to watch the entire discussion.

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