Entrepreneurship Students Get to Work

Entrepreneurship Students Get To Work In Seattle

By Scott Carpenter

Amber Ratcliffe was working at the University of Washington’s Institute for Systems Biology when she realized she was different from her fellow scientists. They talked about launching a company, but none of them had an appetite for business. Except her.

“I loved to negotiate, I loved to manage people, I loved to build teams, I loved to balance budgets,” she said. “I loved to do all that stuff, and the scientists kind of hated that part of it. But I also loved the science and I understood what they were doing so I was a kind of translator.”

So Ratcliffe, who had a degree in biochemistry, enrolled at Foster School of Business to earn her MBA in Technology Entrepreneurship. Armed with the degree, Ratcliffe helped launch NanoString Technologies in 2003, a company that went public this summer.

Infected with the startup bug, Ratcliffe has since helped half a dozen companies with their early-stage development and is working on her third startup.

That is the kind of versatility and that Connie Bourassa-Shaw wants to see more of. As director of the Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship , her mission is to infuse entrepreneurship into every department and program at UW. “The Center is housed in the business school, but our mission is to work across campus,” she said.

Annually, 88% of the 700 MBA students at UW take at least one class in entrepreneurship. This all-inclusive philosophy is helping make the entire UW campus entrepreneurial.

Leading this new campus zeitgeist, faculty from the Buerk Center are reaching across campus to students and professors from throughout the university, encouraging everyone to imagine new ways to be entrepreneurial.

For example, UW classes in software entrepreneurship bring together students from the schools of computer science and engineering under the flag of the business school. Ph.D. students in chemistry can take the same entrepreneurship core as MBAs. Faculty members are encouraged to take time off to start companies. And UW students have started over 70 companies.

One of those students who reached across campus to start her business was Katlin Jackson. Katlin had just graduated when she started Haiti-Babi, a social justice startup that empowers mothers in Haiti to care for their children. She says the Buerk Center was pivotal to her non-profit’s growth and success. As a participant in the UW’s Business Plan Competition and the Jones + Foster Accelerator, Haiti-Babi received advice from the Seattle business community. “The mentorship by professionals who volunteered their time to work with us was a tremendous gift to Haiti-Babi and its success,” said Jackson.

After a year in business, Haiti-Babi employs 10 Haitian moms, making it possible for them to raise their children themselves. The blankets the moms make are selling well and Jackson hopes to hire more Haitian mothers this year.

UW isn’t alone in Seattle in its entrepreneurship pedagogy or its efforts to spread the entrepreneurial spirit across its campus.

Seattle University’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship is a unit within the Albers School of Business and Economics. Headed by Susan Oliver, it offers an MBA, a minor and a certificate in entrepreneurship innovation.

The entrepreneurship program is one of the most popular minors at the Albers School. It takes a cross-disciplinary, cross-campus approach to entrepreneurship. Students from other schools and departments are encouraged to participate. A key element of the curriculum is learning to launch a new business. In addition to classroom learning there are a number of experiential learning opportunities, including a business plan competition and clinics.

One of the more popular clinics is the Community Development and Entrepreneurship Clinic, a joint venture between the Innovation Center and the law school. During the two-semester program business students partner with law students to advise small local startups, applying what they’ve learned in the classroom to real-world business challenges.

Local entrepreneurs, attorneys, and business owners mentor students throughout the process. Alumna Emily Marshal said she learned more in that clinic than any other program because it forced her to package and then use everything she had been taught to benefit her team’s small business client.

Another example of experiential learning at Seattle University is the school’s Enactus Entrepreneurship Club. In alignment with the traditions of this Jesuit university, this undergraduate group works on projects, mostly for poor, underserved populations in Seattle.

The Enactus club is one of 1,600 international teams with some 62,000 students participating annually. Made up students from all majors, the club most recently worked with Redeeming Soles, a non-profit that provides footwear and foot care to the poor in Seattle. Since the SU Enactus team helped Redeeming Soles establish itself as a 501(c)3 charity, it has collected and distributed more than 50,000 pairs of shoes.

As Susan Oliver of Seattle University sees it, she and her colleagues in Seattle’s entrepreneur education scene are creating an environment in which students can learn the craft of entrepreneurship. She sees herself as a facilitator who provides the necessary tools, space and instruction. The rest is up to the student.

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