2017 Best 40 Under 40 Professors: Benjamin Hallen, University of Washington (Foster)

Benjamin Hallen

Assistant Professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship; Faculty Director of Masters of Science in Entrepreneurship

Foster School of Business, University of Washington

Ever hear the maxim, “Those who can do and those who can’t teach?” Ben Hallen is one of those professors who can do both. An entrepreneur at heart who founded and worked for startups before entering academia, Hallen’s legacy will undoubtedly stem from teaching excellence, where his style is described as engaging and passionate by students . The winner of teaching awards at Foster School of Business, the London Business School, and the University of Maryland’s Smith School of Business, Hallen serves as the Faculty Director of the Masters of Science in Entrepreneurship Program at Foster, an innovative venture defined by partnering student startups with Seattle entrepreneurs as mentors.

Hallen’s research credentials are equally impressive. He is currently collecting data to identify the roadmap variables that determine whether startups are accepted into the top accelerators and incubators. He is also regularly published in the Academy of Management Journal, where he sits on the editorial board (along with the boards of Organization Science, Strategic Management Journal, and Administrative Science Quarterly).

Age: 37

At current institution since: 2014

Education: Ph.D. in Strategy, Organizations, and Entrepreneurship, Stanford University, Department of Management Science and Engineering, 2007; Master of Computer Science, University of Virginia, 2002; Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering (with highest distinction), University of Virginia, 2000

List of courses you currently teach:  Entrepreneurship in both our Technology Management MBA and our Executive MBA. I am also creating a course on “Strategies for Funding Ventures” in our new Masters of Science in Entrepreneurship.

What are you currently researching and what is the most significant discovery you’ve made from it?My current research focuses on innovation in the venture finance landscape. One focus is venture accelerators, such as TechStars and Y Combinator. Using data shared by top accelerators, my co-authors and I have contrasted ventures that get into accelerators with those that were almost accepted. Even though these ventures are initially about the same quality, we find that those that get to participate in accelerators are likely to have more employees, raise more funds, and have more customer traction a few years later. Moreover, we find that accelerators are complementary to, and not substitutes for, an entrepreneur’s past startup experience. Overall, this research shows just how beneficial intensive advice can be for early-stage startups.

Professor you most admire: My advisor Kathy Eisenhardt, who is at Stanford. Especially inspiring is how she blends the research and teaching aspects of the profession. She has an unbelievable track record of identifying questions that are important in practice, yet underdeveloped in the academic literature. As a teacher, she has taught generations of Stanford undergraduate and graduate students who have gone onto prominent roles in Silicon Valley.

“I knew I wanted to be a B-school professor when…I left computer science graduate school to co-found a dot-com startup. I quickly learned that while I loved entrepreneurship and building a new venture, I also missed conducting original research and having the time to really think deeply about problems. Being a b-school prof is an amazing opportunity that allows me to work with current and future entrepreneurs, while also doing original research that can help these entrepreneurs be more successful.”

“If I weren’t a B-school professor…I would be at either Disney Imagineering or a serial entrepreneur.”

One word that describes my first time teaching an MBA class: Exhilarating

Most memorable moment in the classroom, or in general, as a professor: At a prior university, I once invited a local entrepreneur (and alumnus) in the micro-brewery industry to speak. He showed up to my 9am class with multiple coolers of his product. It was a very uninhibited discussion.

What professional achievement are you most proud of? My dissertation on the strategies entrepreneurs can use to better raise funding. This is an important question, yet one that we surprisingly did not know much about.

What do you enjoy most about being a business school professor? Getting to help students see themselves as entrepreneurs, whether in new ventures, established companies, or their communities.

What do you enjoy least about being a business school professor? Assigning grades

What is your favorite business-themed movie and what is the biggest lesson that MBA students could gain from it? The documentary Startup.com (2001). The film reinforces the importance of learning from and enjoying the entrepreneurial journey even if things do not work out.

What is your favorite company and why? In terms of startups, Seattle has a great ecosystem. Two early-stage companies I am excited about here are Peach and Poppy. Amongst established companies, I have been very impressed with how Microsoft has repositioned itself over the last few years.

Fun fact about yourself: I grew up in Tennessee, Switzerland, and the Netherlands.

Bucket list item #1: Picking up backcountry skiing

Favorite book: Neuromancer by William Gibson

Favorite movie: Pixar’s Up

Favorite type of music: Bluegrass

Favorite television show: Orphan Black

Favorite vacation spot: Whistler, BC – especially for opening day of ski season.

What are your hobbies? Hiking, skiing, cooking, anything with my wife and daughter.

Twitter handle: @benhallen

“If I had my way, the business school of the future would have…a blend of faculty instruction with deep mentoring from the local business ecosystem. This is something we are really working on in our new Masters of Science in Entrepreneurship.”

Students say:

“As our Entrepreneurship professor, Ben did an incredible job of walking us through the entire entrepreneurial journey in only ten weeks. His engaging and dynamic teaching style imparted valuable knowledge and stimulated our thinking and creativity through case studies, discussions, and projects. Ben also lit the entrepreneurial spark in us: several of my classmates are now pursuing new entrepreneurial ventures, and Ben’s influence played a key role in that.”

“I had the pleasure of taking Ben’s Entrepreneurship class while receiving my MBA from UW. Ben’s ability to apply his real world experience in a start-up to an academic environment is uncanny. Going into his course, I was already an experienced entrepreneur, however I found the frameworks he taught were extremely valuable and used them myself when I started my next successful venture after the course.”

“He has been instrumental in building my confidence to move forward with investigations into a potential entrepreneurial opportunity. The classroom atmosphere has provided me frameworks to build the case for pursuing this venture and live interviews with successful founders has provided glimpses through the looking glass rarely seen. Before taking his course I would never had thought my idea would work nor would I have what it takes to go after it.  Thanks to him I will have the tools and confidence to attempt my venture.”

“I met Prof. Hallen before I was even a student in his course, as he was excitedly conversing with former students about their business ventures and career developments in the Foster School Paccar building common areas.  He has a genuine passion for students’ learning, both inside and outside the classroom. I have learned the framework of skills to be confident in pursuing an entrepreneurial venture, and most importantly learned that entrepreneurship and business in general is more a skill of correctly adapting along the course, rather than having a flawless plan upfront. Prof. Hallen teaches not only skills but confidence and gives students tools to evaluate their venture at every uncertain juncture.  His affable good nature yet rigorous methodology is effective in prompting green business students over the threshold of delving into their own business ventures, as a career coach in addition to an academic scholar.”

“He currently acts as a mentor to my startup helping us with the business strategy. Ben’s research in business strategies is incredibly interesting given that my MBA cohort spent a lot of time draining his brain for more knowledge. His teaching style was so engaging that out of all classes, his class was one of the two classes where our whole group was 100% engaged (I can testify to that).”


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