2022 Best & Brightest MBA: Kim Pendergrass, UC-San Diego (Rady)

Kim Pendergrass

Rady School of Management at UC San Diego

“Tenacious bluetech entrepreneurial leader with a passion for adventure and the environment.”

Hometown: Portland, OR

Fun fact about yourself: As I was graduating high school, I seriously considered being a fine artist and even applied to art schools. I had been taking art lessons for years as a creative outlet and specialized in oil portraits. I showed my work in a local gallery and sold my first painting at 17. I still paint but now I just give my artwork to family and friends.

Undergraduate School and Degree: Oregon State University, BS in Marketing, BA in Art History, and BA in International Business

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? Fleetcor Technologies, Head of Marketing for Nvoicepay Division

Where did you intern during the summer of 2021? Rivian, Palo Alto, CA  – Remote

Where will you be working after graduation? Algeon Materials, Co-Founder & CEO

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School: While at Rady, I’ve served as the VP of Alumni Relations for the Rady Student Association Board and as the President & Founder for the Rady Marketing Association. I’ve TA’d for both undergraduate and graduate business classes, Test and Measurements in the Workplace and Organizational Strategy. I was recognized as a Rady Fellowship Scholar and a UC San Diego Triton Changemaker. I’ve competed on three business case teams and took first in the UC San Diego U.S. Israeli Center Business Case Competition and was a semi-finalist in the Michigan Ross Renewables Energy Case Competition.

Through my start-up Algeon Materials, which I co-founded in my first year of business school, we have taken first place in StartBlue Demo Day – Audience’s Choice for Most Innovative, Blackstone LaunchPad Ideas Competition – Social & Climate Impact, San Diego Start-Up Month – Lightweight Pitch Competition, and StartR Demo Day – Audience’s Choice Winner and have been named as finalists in the AWS University Startup Competition, UC San Diego Triton Innovation Challenge, Fowler Global Social Innovation Challenge, the UC Big Ideas, the MIT Water Innovation Challenge, and the Baylor New Venture Business Plan Competition.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I’m proud of launching a mission-driven bluetech start-up during my MBA. Along with a cohort member, I launched Algeon Materials, a biotech materials company focused on creating sustainable and environmentally friendly bioplastics from kelp. I came to business school knowing that I wanted to start my own business while I was still a student. There are numerous resources available to students, especially at Rady. Working full time on my business while juggling a full course load has been tricky at times, but it’s been a great opportunity to immediately apply the concepts I’m learning in the classroom. My professors Amy Nguyen-Chyung, Eric Floyd, Rick Townsend, and Michael Berthelot also serve as mentors and help me dig into the specifics like business plan creation, financial modeling, new venture finance, and designing a board of directors. Creating a company where I’m excited to get up every morning and go to work keeps me motivated.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? In a start-up, every day you are hustling. An achievement that I’m proud of from the first year of my career was when the VP of Sales looked at me and said, “We’re exhibiting at a tradeshow in Austin, TX next month and you’re in charge of it.” I was excited because I was finally getting out of the office but I had no idea under the sun what exhibiting at a tradeshow entailed. It was truly a baptism by fire. After some considerable online research and talking to my colleagues, I laid out a plan. In a few weeks, I had secured a booth, created and started executing the marketing and promotional plan, booked all the travel and sponsorships, and planned out the event. It was thrilling to work on something new and unknown to me at the time. I learned how to be resilient, develop creative solutions, and build for scalability. The show was such a success as a revenue-generating activity that I managed 12 more the next year.

Why did you choose this business school? I’ve wanted to be an entrepreneur for as long as I can remember. Working in a start-up right out of undergrad confirmed it for me. Every day I felt energized because there was a new mountain to climb. I spent the first eight years of my career experiencing what it took to take a business from pre-revenue to acquisition by a large public company. When I was looking at business schools, it was important to me to choose an MBA program that would support my goal of launching a business while in school. I chose the Rady School of Management at UC San Diego because of the strong entrepreneurial community and ecosystem that supports students and alumni starting businesses. I wanted a business school that had incubators, accelerators, maker spaces, and strong ties to the investing community. Finally, Dean Lisa Ordóñez’s commitment to strengthening diversity, equity, and inclusion reassured me that I would be in a place that supported and celebrated women’s successes in business.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? I have had so many great professors. One of my favorite professors is Ken Wilbur who teaches the eCommerce class. In 11 short weeks, you have to develop and launch an eCommerce business. Professor Wilbur takes you through the whole process from soup-to-nuts of design thinking, customer research, strategic sourcing, inventory management, website creation, business launch, customer acquisition, and analytics. He breaks down the concepts of starting a business into bite-size pieces and is there to offer mentorship and advice along the way. He’s also a published researcher and business consultant and weaves in current examples and business practices into each class.

What was your favorite MBA event or tradition at your business school? I love how Rady students support Rady alumni. Rady alum and U.S. Veteran, Sean Haggerty, started Protector Brewing in San Diego. During the pandemic when classes were remote and students were in desperate need of networking, the Rady Marketing Association hosted a happy hour social at Protector Brewing. Sean was great! He mingled with students, talked about what it was like to start an organic brewery, and even gave students a special pint discount. Since then, student groups have gone back and hosted events at the brewery time and time again. It’s now common to hear someone say during class, “Hey, let’s all meet up at Protector afterward”.

Looking back over your MBA experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently and why? I was very optimistic about returning to in-person classes relatively soon after starting my MBA in the Fall of 2020. I didn’t want to face the reality of multiple years of remote and hybrid learning, so I never took the time to set up a good office space in my home. After a year-and-a-half of working from the dining room table or the couch, I wish I would have taken the initiative to get a desk and a really good ergonomic desk chair early on. While my studies and business planning haven’t suffered, my back feels quite stiff. There’s still time to make the change and I might take up yoga too while I’m at it.

What surprised you the most about business school? I was a little hesitant about starting a full-time business program with eight years of professional business and leadership experience. Several people in my industry told me that I was too old to go to business school and should look at getting my MBA in an executive flex program. It was mildly insulting and I’m thankful that I didn’t listen to this advice. Being a full-time MBA student in my 30s has afforded me the flexibility and time to start my own venture. My classes are fulfilling and I find myself taking electives in areas that I previously had little experience in like supply chain management, strategic sourcing, and business analytics. At Rady, I’ve found a community of students from a variety of backgrounds that include other senior leaders in their fields looking to grow their business acumen. Business school is not just for those 20-year-olds with 2 – 5 years of business experience. It’s also for the rest of us; the ones with a plan for our future and how an MBA will help us get there.

What is one thing you did during the application process that gave you an edge at the school you chose? During the application process, I highlighted my unusual accomplishments, experiences, and skills that make me memorable. For example, in 2018 I read 52 books in one year, I’ve traveled to over 29 countries, I studied abroad in Bangkok during my undergrad, and archery is one of my hobbies. I know this gave me an edge because my admission counselor brought these things up and asked me to elaborate. In addition, I spoke about how Rady could help me accomplish my professional and personal goals and how I would support the Rady community as a student and future alumni. I think having a vision for your MBA experience is important and demonstrates your commitment to the program and your future.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Meeting people early on in a virtual setting was difficult. One of the cohort members set up a Slack channel called #random-coffee where you were randomly paired with another student each week to have a virtual coffee meet-up. In January of 2021, I was paired with my cohort member Rose Greeley Fein. Rose is easily one of the smartest people I’ve ever met and she is genuinely a good person looking to make a difference in the world. She has degrees (BS and MS) in Mathematics and has spent time in the aerospace and defense industry as a product manager, project manager, and systems engineer. In addition to being a top academic student, Rose tutors other MBA students in a variety of quantitative-focused classes. She also tutors younger students in the community after classes. The random coffee meet-up set off a chain of events and eventually led to Rose and I co-founding Algeon Materials together. Who knows where I’d be today if we both hadn’t had joined that slack channel.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? My husband, Tim Moor, has been my rock. We’ve been together for over ten years. From the beginning, he knew getting an MBA was something I always planned on doing. He has supported my dream and made it easy for me to quit my job, pursue education full time, and launch a business. He supported me through studying for the GMATs, proofreading applications, traveling for interviews, and ultimately moving to San Diego. Doing a full-time MBA program mid-career without this kind of support would have been very difficult. Tim gave me the strength to say “yes” and not worry about the consequences of leaving a good career behind for the unknown. Having a life partner who has faith in me, celebrates my successes, and wants me to succeed makes the hard times easier and the good times even better.

What are the top two items on your professional bucket list? If you would have asked me a few years ago about my professional bucket list, I would have said being on the cover of Forbes or Entrepreneur because it was a signal that you’ve made it. Now, my dreams are bigger than just me. I want to start and work for a company that has a significant positive global impact. I want to grow my start-up Algeon Materials into a profitable company that significantly impacts climate change and reduces plastic pollution. I also want to give back to others and help entrepreneurs who are trying to change our world for the better. I want to get to a point where I can invest in and mentor other start-ups looking to have a positive impact on that world as an angel investor and board member.

How has the pandemic changed your view of a career? I used to be a long-term planner with short-term goals when it came to my career. The pandemic threw my carefully-laid plans for a loop and reminded me that tomorrow is not guaranteed. I’m learning to have a bias for immediate action. If I have an idea, I want to try it out quickly and fail so I can iterate, rather than wait for the right time. I’ve also seen family, friends, and past colleagues leave jobs and companies that are no longer a good fit for them. I think many people are realizing that they want to be happy in their careers and are seeking out better opportunities. If you have the privilege to make a change in your career, then you should do what makes you happy. When I look back at the end of my career, I want to be proud of the risks I took and the positive impacts I made.

What made Kim such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2022? 

“Humility, tenacity, and selflessness. Kim Pendergrass puts others before self. Kim puts impact before money. Kim puts knowledge and learning about all else—recognizing that learning from peers and mentors is as valuable as learning from professors. Kim naturally, instinctively, and warmly encourages and intentionally supports undergraduates, other women, and those from underrepresented groups to understand the benefits of entrepreneurial training no matter what their path. Kim leads by example—she has pursued with vigor every entrepreneurial training opportunity (three campus accelerators, two competitions, and two regional incubators) to advance her startup—a company with the potential to revolutionize the plastics industry. While many people are acknowledged for accomplishments that are publicly visible (and Kim has many), I have met few students whose with some many true accomplishments that no one sees.”

Tim Schwartz
Director of the Sullivan Center of Entrepreneurship and Innovation


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