Category Archives: Entrepreneurship

Is entrepreneurship for you?

Jeff Levy
Jeff Levy at the TMMBA & EMBA spring networking night

By Sara Jones, TMMBA Assistant Director & Class of 2012 Candidate

We recently had a networking night for students and alumni of the TMMBA and Executive MBA programs. Our speaker for the evening was Jeff Levy, an entrepreneur, coach, and mentor who has helped hundreds of individuals open their own franchise or small business. He’s also the co-author of Making the Jump into Small Business Ownernship (read an excerpt in this GeekWire post).

Jeff shared his entrepreneurial journey and views on what it takes to achieve small business ownership. He highlighted his personal challenges and achievements and the who, what, when, where, and why of entrepreneurship.  We followed-up with Jeff after the event with a few questions. Here’s what he had to say:

What is your proudest moment as an entrepreneur?

There have been many times in my career where I felt pride and a sense of accomplishment.  These usually came after achieving something that no one thought possible. Probably,  the most significant moment was when my partners and I put together a $35million package to buy the three division from Flow International to form Safeworks, LLC.  No one, including ourselves, during the process, knew how it would exactly come together. We never gave up on our dream and made it happen.

It’s not easy to take a leap from being employed (and the primary earner) to being an entrepreneur.  When is the right time to start my own business?  Is there a strategy that would provide the least impact to my family?

You are very right that it is not easy to leave the comfort of a regular paycheck. However,  workers today function in what is called the “new career economy.” A paycheck is not necessarily a synonym for security. At the executive level it is not uncommon to be in a different job, or in career transition every 3-4 years. What you want to avoid is having to start a business when not working as a result of a layoff. That is a lot of pressure unless you have a good severance and possibly Self Employed Assistance Plan benefits provided by the State of Washington.  I think the best strategy is to work on the planning part of your business while you have the comfort of the regular check.  Give particular thought to the capital side of the business. Do you have enough money set aside to meet your living expenses for up to a year (or more) in addition to the capital requirements for investing in the business. Once funding is secure it still takes the difficult task of balancing your dreams versus your fears. My family has always been supportive of my entrepreneurial pursuits.  They believed that my early career success working for others would be transferable to my own venture. As my wife said. In her wisdom, you have made money for others, it is time that you do it for yourself.

With the dramatic changes in technology and impending talent war, what are the pros and cons of being a full-time employee versus self-employed?

I think that there will be a talent war. It actually exists today for certain software engineers and programmers.  I do believe the jobs of the future will be “newer and fewer”. No matter what the demand may be for talent in a salaried environment, I don’t think it competes with the benefits of being your own boss.  Clearly, I have a bias in this regard. Workers tend to get comfortable living at the level of their W-2 income and don’t do enough to create real wealth or to control the most valuable thing they have, their time.  I also believe that technology will create many more opportunities for self-employment.

What is the number one personality trait you see in successful entrepreneurs?

I think the # one personality trait is optimism. The ability to look for the opportunity no matter what the difficulty or the challenge may be.  There are certainly other very important traits but you asked for one. If you are a pessimist trying to go into business, game over!

What is the single biggest obstacle encountered by aspiring entrepreneurs?

Here I need the latitude to give a few obstacles.  You might think it is the lack of capital, but I don’t believe that is what holds entrepreneurs back although it might delay entry or slow down the ramping up of the business. My story is a good example of working the plan until you make it happen.  Raising $35m looked like climbing Mt. Everest. The two biggest obstacles are being close minded and not having developed mastery of basic business management skills.

Takeaways from Pitch, Don’t Spin: How to Create Buzz Around your Start-up

Rae Wang, TMMBA Class of 2003

TMMBA sponsored an MIT Enterprise Forum Northwest entrepreneur meet up last night, the topic was Pitch Don’t Spin.  I was very excited that the TMMBA program reached out to the community to connect with other tech enthusiasts, meanwhile making such events available us, the alums, to attend.  I have a two years old startup and customer acquisition through new media is always on my marketing agenda, so this topic caught my interest right away.

The panel consisted of the co-founder of GeekWire, Founder of Newsvine, editor of Seattle Business Magazine, Seattle Times Technology Columnist, and the senior editor of Xconomy.  They gave us a wide range of opinions on how to approach media in this new media age. General challenges in the tech media today are:

  • Too much information is flowing around
  • A lot of people are writing
  • New media and old media provide a lot of choices for entrepreneurs, it can get overwhelming

The panel presented very interesting points and suggestions on how tech entrepreneurs can effectively tackle these challenges:

  • Be authentic, be honest, and be yourself
  • Sell your true story not your credentials
  • Have a story: just because you have an app, it does not mean you have an interesting story
  • Explain your technology in layman terms
  • Get the reporters interested in you
  • Know your audience and use the correct channel to pitch: no need to do Twitter etc if nobody reads it
  • Get your interesting nuggets of news prepared ahead of time before meeting the press
  • Rethink press release and don’t be afraid to use new media, such as emails

If you would like to learn more about this event, my fellow note taker over at posted a visual note from the event. Check it out at

Lights, camera, action! A look inside the UW Business Plan Competition

Sara Jones, Assistant Director

Last quarter, 12 TMMBA students successfully made it into the Investment Round of the UW Center for Innovation & Entrepreneurship (CIE) Business Plan Competition.  This is no small feat since only 36 out of 92 teams were accepted.  During the Investment Round, 230 judges each had $1,000 CIE dollars to “invest” in the teams.  The 16 teams with the highest investment advanced to the Sweet Sixteen Round.  I really enjoyed attending the event this year. There was a lot of excitement in the room and it was fun to see our students pitching their business ideas to local venture capitalists, entrepreneurs and investors.  This year TMMBA had 7 students on 3 different teams make it to the Sweet Sixteen Round!

Here is a short video from the Investment Round to give you a feel for the competition.

UW Business Plan Competition – 2010 Investment Round from Foster School of Business on Vimeo.

Business Plan Competition Takeaways

Hani Rachidi, TMMBA Student (Class of 2010)

Last week during the final rounds of the business plan competition we saw a very strong pool of finalists. The diversity of ideas was awesome – from an assisted walking mechanism to green bricks. The winner, Yongopal offers a compelling platform for ESL conversations between South Korean students and US college students. While our team, TrueLight, made it to the sweet sixteen we did not advance to the final six. Some key lessons learned though are useful for any would be contestants or budding entrepreneurs.

  1. Secure IP by either an Option or License
  2. If you are not the inventor have the inventor on your board and with you in the competition
  3. Have a beta product/prototype at the least.
  4. If there’s an elephant in the room (meaning a big assumption or barrier to your success) expose it and deal with it strongly
  5. Have an advisory board that has some clout

And lastly, bring viral passion to the presentation.

The Business Plan Competition – TrueLight FLIIP

Hani Rachidi, TMMBA Student (Class of 2010)
So the closure of any academic pursuit is a diploma or title of some kind. I think in business school that closure should not only be a degree, but if you are fortunate enough a business. In the past few months, my teammates from the TMMBA program have formed a venture called TrueLight. I’m proud of our team and how far we have come from just a bunch of strangers during orientation near the washington/canadian border. We are now a team with not only an academic purpose but also a real business venture!

Follow our team as we revolutionize the experience of viewing and interacting with content on mobile devices through our interactive pico projector.

This LG concept device is a perfect fit for the FLIIP. This LG concept device is a perfect fit for the FLIIP.

TMMBA heads to the Business Plan Competition

Sara Jones, Program Manager

Yesterday Tina and I attended the Business Plan Competition Investment Round. This was my second year at the event and there were 10 TMMBA students participating. I enjoy going because it’s a great opportunity to see our students in action and I’m always amazed at the business ideas that are out there.

The Investment Round was setup like a trade show. Judges were given “CIE dollars” to invest and the teams spent 4 hours pitching their idea to the judges to try and get them to invest in their business. The room was buzzing with energy and sometimes it was hard to hear through all of the action. I look forward to attending the next round, Sweet Sixteen, and learning more about the business plans that made it.

Alexei Zyuzin, SmartFin Technologies

Frode Kristensen & Umesh Mokate, Safetracker

To sum it up, the Business Plan Competition is a great opportunity for TMMBA students to network with other entrepreneurial spirits, flush out their business idea, and have a chance at winning seed money.