Innovators are rare. Sure, business leaders gush about stepping outside the box, taking bold risks, and embracing new ideas. Just try making a pitch that involves overhauling revenue streams and re-tooling staff. Resources get shifted and egos get bruised. Those faux innovators retreat back to being incumbents real fast.
Every business student imagines surfing larger forces, avoiding being swept out by riptide or tangled in their leash. They picture themselves at the center of industry, building an enterprise, or perfecting a model. Anyone can come up with an idea. Innovators are the ones who ask questions, experiment with options, and persevere through defeat. Most important, they aren’t too smug to admit they’re wrong – or too afraid to take an alternative path.
A PLACE FOR INNOVATORS
That’s how the market views MBAs from the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business. Just ask employers. In the 2019 Bloomberg Businessweek Recruiters Survey, employers ranked Foster MBAs 2nd for innovation and creativity. Adding to that, the Foster School placed 1st in the world for entrepreneurial-minded students. In other words, Foster MBAs are value creators, flexible and driven doers who see problems as opportunities and turn ideas into action.
In a We>Me culture, Foster taps into the talent of the individual while harnessing the collective force of the group. This innovative spirit, along with an entrepreneurial mindset, is embedded throughout the MBA programming.
“Innovation and creativity are in our DNA,” explains Wendy Guild, assistant dean of MBA programs. “From day one, we talk about practicing a growth mindset. This allows us to move away from fear of failure to try new things and learn from our experiences. We celebrate achievement, to be sure, but we are even more excited about demonstrated learning. Our economic context in Seattle is imbued with stories of entrepreneurial success—Microsoft, Amazon, Starbucks, Zillow, Nordstrom….Our Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship is a key convener and consolidator of activity in the startup ecosystem through numerous tactics – business plan competitions, mentorships, Venture Fellows Program, and our Foster + Jones Accelerator.”
A HANDS-ON LEARNING APPROACH
The school’s enviable location and rich resources are backed up by leadership’s never-satisfied philosophy and willingness to get their hands dirty. “We are not content with “good enough” – we are always looking to improve.,” Guild adds. “We update our curriculum, connect students to fresh opportunities, and generate new value together in the form of startups and field projects. We would much rather see our students try and fail, and then learn from the experience, than not try at all.”
This approach resonated with the 110 members of the MBA Class of 2022. Many cite the program’s “learning-by-doing” methodology that includes the legendary Applied Strategy Project, where students complete projects like crafting performance metrics, identifying sustainable solutions, and designing distribution channels. Better yet, Foster can draw on Pacific Northwest business royalty for projects, with past partners including Adobe, Nike, Philips, T-Mobile, Costco, and Boeing. In the process, MBA students gain valuable experience, build connections, and reinforce their learning for life.
“In terms of learning by doing, Foster builds this into the curriculum at every turn,” explains Kate Leuba, a project manager who studied Islamic Civilizations as an undergrad. “From case studies in classes to the applied strategy project, Foster will provide several hands-on opportunities that will allow me to gain experience in areas I haven’t worked in before. Also, with Amazon, Microsoft, Google, Starbucks, and other top global companies just ten minutes down the road, we have incredible access to networking opportunities.”
A MIX OF OPPORTUNITIES AND RECREATION
Indeed, the Foster MBA is a reflection of Seattle as a whole, a mix of energy and reserve that values pioneering ruggedness and creative originality. This makes it a haven for upstarts hoping to beat the odds. Not surprisingly, the region attracts entrepreneurs and career changers looking to forge a new identity or stake a claim. Such cross-currents have created a region replete with Fortune 500 brawn and entrepreneurial nimbleness, an ever-changing landscape that rewards the forward-thinkers and technical virtuosos.
“Seattle is so much more than a major hub for the tech industry, the quality for which it is often heralded as an attractive destination for professionals,” explains Drew Blundell. “Seattle is also home to Fortune 500 companies that specialize in everything from retail to logistics to aerospace, as well as thousands of smaller firms that lay the foundation for one of the most innovative and productive business environments in the country.”
Indeed, the Emerald City offers something to everyone, with a variety of industries to explore, network, and intern. This creates a platform for Foster innovators to ply their trades and fund their ventures.
“Seattle is on the vanguard of tech innovation and business model disruption and the Foster School of Business is at the heart of this change, writes Adam Schmidt, a 2020 grad and an Accenture Senior Consultant. “Foster faculty, students, and alumni are closely connected to tech anchors like Microsoft and Amazon, disruptors like Zillow, Redfin, and Smartsheet, not to mention the region’s dynamic start-up and venture capital ecosystem. Choosing Foster is choosing to be part of this region-wide classroom—I have been fortunate to complete consulting projects for three tech and cloud companies as part of my MBA.”
When MBAs need to re-charge, the city boasts 278 coffee houses – or one for every 2,000 people. When the rain stops, there are plenty of paths and parks to hike, bike, boat, and run. “This community spirit thrives in both the vibrant city and outdoor playground just minutes from downtown,” adds Blundell. “There are not many places in the world where you can kayak with harbor seals in the morning, have an afternoon coffee chat on the campus of a major global corporation, and head up to the mountains for night skiing all in the same day.”
TAKING ON LEADERSHIP WHEN IT COUNTS
Sounds like paradise. Chances are, you’ll find Amanda Pearson bolted down in Paccar Hall. A former charge nurse with two degrees from Georgetown, Pearson comes to Seattle with a mission: fixing the systemic issues plaguing the quality and equitable delivery of health services. It is an area where she boasts extensive front line experience. At an intensive care unit in Washington DC, she spearheaded the transition of her unit, which doubled in size and accepted a new population of critically ill vascular surgery patients. A year later, she converted her unit’s practices and protocols to treat an entirely different threat: an influx of COVID-19 victims.
“The unprecedented overflow of patients at all-time high acuity levels strained our resources and forced clinicians to stretch like never before,” she remembers. “As a nurse, I had to navigate constantly changing research, protocols, and PPE supply to care for patients hovering on the brink of death due to a disease whose pathophysiology was (and remains) somewhat of a mystery. While COVID-19 presented extreme challenges, I am proud of the extra mile I went to provide excellent care for my patients and their families, and I am amazed at how quickly my team successfully implemented new technology to overcome communication and other logistical barriers presented by the isolation requirements for these patients. This pandemic has exposed serious deficiencies in our health care system. For me, this both confirmed my resilience in the face of adversity and renewed my focus on leading change and innovation in the health services space.”
You’ll find this same can-do spirit in Emily Mathison, a scientist from San Diego. At 24, she was already entrusted with running an analytical lab. After studying its operational processes and customer feedback, she decided it needed a redesign to boost teamwork and turnaround. To do that, Mathison turned her knowledge gaps into gifts.
“I took project management classes, studied how to assess opportunities, executed internal and external marketing campaigns, and tied it together with a deep commitment to stakeholder satisfaction. The lab grew to become a go-to source for dealing with all types of technical problems—a place where both internal and external scientists, engineers, and managers could bring ambiguous questions that my team and I would then help solve.”
ENTREPRENEURS AND INTRAPRENEURS ALIKE
Ezra Tilaye has already established his entrepreneurial chops, opening and operating a Baltimore restaurant for seven years before selling it to become a consultant. He was also selected to be part of the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program, which provides training and funding to promising organizations in underserved areas.
“The semester-long programming, which hosted 30 local entrepreneurs, developed skills in entrepreneurship, accounting, finance, human resource development and accessing capital,” he explains. “I was fortunate to have been selected for the program where I learned practical business applications and collaborated with many talented entrepreneurs. Once I completed that very rigorous, but short program, I knew there was more to uncover and more to learn, and I knew an MBA was the perfect environment to just that.”
In the startup space, Tilaye is joined by Raviv Feigenbaum Maor. In Israel, she launched a boutique research and strategic consulting firm – one that landed a top wealth management firm as a client. The class is also packed with intrapreneurs who’ve carved out their own legacies in established companies. At RealSelf, a 150 employee firm that advises clients on medical procedures, Emily Kwong started Women Who Lead, a group whose value was recognized with funding for DEI programming. At the same time, Kate Leuba became her last employer’s youngest project manager. Not only that, she managed their biggest client. In fact, her leadership led to $12 million dollars in additional billings per year from that client.
Our Meet the Class of 2022 Series
* To read profiles of 12 first-years, go to Page 3.
* To read an interview with the assistant dean, go to Page 2.