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.

YEOC students take on inequity in higher ed and business: The November and December sessions

For one Saturday a month, 145 high school students from across Washington State converge on the UW campus for their monthly YEOC session. YEOC, which stands for Young Executives of Color, is a nine month long college-prep program for sophomore, junior and senior high school students. With an average GPA of 3.47, this group of high-achieving students aims to increase the visibility of an under-served and under-represented population—themselves­— in the college and business worlds. The program provides participants with networking opportunities and a lecture series dubbed YEOC Talks and engages them in business activities.

Each session focuses on a different aspect of business. For the month of November, the session focus was on branding and marketing. YEOC activities consisted of super-hero team skits, a dress for success fashion show and a battle of the brands debate. The sophomore college prep session centered on leadership while the juniors focused on college fit and the seniors reviewed their college applications and essays. The students also heard from YEOC alumna/current mentor Jordan Faralan and Microsoft Product Marketing Manager Leona Locke. Check out some highlights in the student-made video below:

Finance was the well-timed focus for December. YEOC activities included honing their public speaking skills and a financial freedom game with YEOC mentors and community volunteers. The sophomore college prep session was devoted to paying for college while juniors gained insights into scholarships and seniors worked on scholarship essays. Students also attended a mentor lecture on personal finance with UW student Paulos Shiferaw and a YEOC Talk with Wesley Burns, a Northwestern Mutual Wealth Management Advisor. Watch some highlights below:

This blog post is first in a series focusing on monthly YEOC student activities. Visit the YEOC page to learn more about the program.

MBA Strategic Consulting Program heads to Singapore

A team of Foster students recently traveled to Singapore for an MBA Strategic Consulting Project. The following is an account by Kyle Sullivan (MBA 2014) of his experiences there and observations of the city-state.

Foster MBA students in SingaporeIt’s cold and rainy in Seattle; typical winter conditions. It’s hard to imagine I was enjoying 85-degree weather just a few weeks ago in Singapore.

Despite having lived in Asia for an extended period, I had never visited Singapore before. My friends often described it as uneventful, that it had none of the dynamism of China or Hong Kong; “Asia lite,” they would call it. I could not disagree more.

From the moment we landed, I noticed a sense of significance about the place. Driving westward into town along Singapore’s East Coast Parkway (ECP), parallel to the waterfront, it is all but impossible to ignore the armada of container ships lingering in the Singapore Strait. A few miles down the road, the view of the ships becomes obscured by an army of quay cranes towering above the Port of Singapore, Asia’s second largest port. Adjacent to the port, gleaming skyscrapers bearing the names Standard Chartered, HSBC, and Microsoft press up against Singapore’s Marina Bay. Surrounded by so much commercial activity, it feels as if you are in the center of the world.

I traveled to Singapore with a team of three classmates—Noah, Shalini, and Lisa—to work on a project for a Washington-state manufacturing company. The company had been exploring the possibility of opening a warehouse in Singapore in order to be closer to its customers in Asia Pacific. Our task was three-fold: gather information about the local market for the company’s products, assess the local real estate market, and make connections with headhunters. The project’s intent was to inform the client company about the most appropriate way to set up an operation in Singapore.

SingaporeIt was a busy ten days for us, packed with meetings, dinners, and networking events. One of the key takeaways from our meetings with various business partners was that there are very clear trade-offs for conducting business in Singapore. For example, business registration is conducted online and takes a matter of hours (whereas in China it can take more than six months), laws and regulations are evenly enforced, and the corporate income tax rate is a flat 17 percent. The downside is that the average price for a warehouse is roughly triple the price in Seattle, and annual wage increases are some of the highest in Asia Pacific.

One of the most interesting meetings was with a company called Mapletree, which is one of Singapore’s largest industrial property management firms. We met with a man named James, who heads up marketing for Mapletree’s industrial property division, to hear his expertise on Singapore’s industrial property market and to understand his company’s portfolio of warehouse properties. As we were wrapping up the conversation, out of curiosity I asked James for his opinion about what country in Asia Pacific will be the next major driver of growth for industrial property sales. He paused for a moment, and grinned. Waiting in suspense, as if he was about to divulge a closely guarded secret, he simply replied, “Indonesia.”

Learn more about the MBA Strategic Consulting Program at the Foster School.

Men in cheaply made gorilla suits: How Avvo used the internet to disrupt the legal business

Mark BrittonDuring his introduction at the November Leaders to Legends Breakfast Series, Dean Jiambalvo jokingly referred to Mark Britton as having “the most dangerous job in the world.” Mark Britton is the founder and CEO of Avvo, a lawyer rating and legal Q&A forum website founded in 2006.

A lawyer with the firm Preston Gates & Ellis, Britton began working with major area clients like Microsoft and its then budding travel spinoff, Expedia. After experiencing what he dubbed the “meteoric growth” of Expedia while serving as their executive vice president of Worldwide Corporate Affairs, Britton decided the travel associated with the position was too much and moved to Italy with his family to teach finance for his undergrad alma matter, Gonzaga. Interestingly, he found that even though he was no longer practicing law, friends and family were still calling him for legal advice. It made him wonder, “Why are all of these smart people lost when it comes to the legal system?” At that time, Britton notes, there was no “Expedia like resource where people could go to get their questions answered.” Thus, Avvo–short for avoocato, the Italian word for lawyer–was born.

Like EBay, Amazon and TripAdvisor, Avvo is rooted in an internet culture where the “expectation has been built where you can converse with your friends [online] about a product and rate it.” And with the advent of Google, Britton adds, we have become accustomed to asking for, receiving and discussing information with zero cost to the consumer. A practice Avvo continues, providing their rating system and Q&A forum to customers for free.

Besides ratings and forums, Avvo provides advertising for lawyers. During his presentation, Britton referred to the “yellow page mode” of advertising. He found that even as recently as nine years ago, lawyers were spending $1 billion dollars in outdated phone book advertising. And to add insult to injury, the advertisements themselves were not good. To the amusement of the audience, Britton included some of the worst offenders, including ads that featured scantily-clad women, men in cheaply made gorilla suits and tricked out cars straight from a ‘Pimp my Ride’ rerun. Jokes aside, Avvo definitely hasn’t gone without controversy.

Towards the end of the lecture, Britton touched on some of the challenges Avvo has faced, including a lawsuit filed against Britton and Avvo a mere nine days after the company launch. Although it was later thrown out, the suit, paired with a year-long stagnation in online traffic and negative press, took a toll on the young CEO. However, Britton believes that the uphill battles built mental fortitude, stating, “The risk of failure, when you’re trying to cut something out of nothing, is approximate.” He also reiterated the importance of self-assurance and steadfastness, saying, “You need to believe and that’s the key. You have to be obsessed with something.”

Avvo currently has six million monthly visits, 160,000 lawyers listed, 10,000 advertisers and 117 employees. When asked about Avvo’s future, Britton stated, “We have a company trying to buy us but we’re not spending a lot time thinking about it…we know we can double our business.”

Mark Britton was one of UW Foster School of Business Dean Jim Jiambalvo’s guest speakers at the annual Leaders to Legends Breakfast Lecture Series, which include notable leaders in an array of industries from greater Seattle and around the country.

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