UW’s Connie Bourassa-Shaw on the Genetics of Entrepreneurs, and Why Seattle Is Startup Mecca

4/16/09

Connie Bourassa-Shaw has been the director of the University of Washington’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) in the Foster School of Business for just three years. But her ties to the UW go back to 1987, when she was a writer for the UW economic and business magazine, Pacific Northwest Executive. She has played various roles in the UW business scene since then, including director of communications at the business school and executive director of the Program for Innovation and Entrepreneurship—a program for business school students only that Bourassa-Shaw later developed into the CIE, which serves students from all disciplines.

After a brief stint away from the university as the executive director of the Northwest Entrepreneur Network, Bourassa-Shaw returned in 2006 to head the CIE. I called her up to find out more about her thoughts on UW’s take on business, how her center helps academics find their way in the commercial world, and what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur. Despite the dismal economy, which has impacted the CIE directly (she has had to put plans for new programs on hold due to budget constraints), Bourassa-Shaw remains optimistic that Seattle will continue to grow as a hub for startups.

The following is an edited version of our conversation.

Xconomy: What is the role of the CIE at UW?

Connie Bourassa-Shaw
: We do all entrepreneurship, all the time. We are really trying to instill entrepreneurship into the fabric of the University of Washington, so that any student, any faculty member, any staff member who is interested in entrepreneurship can take classes, participate in activities, find the resources they need to do a startup, which include broad accessibility to the entrepreneurial community. We have very strong inroads into the community at large, both the venture capital and angel side, the equity side, and entrepreneur side. Serial entrepreneurs who understand the process from one end to the other can be a resource in terms of being a mentor or a coach.

We provide a special program for faculty, who are different from students doing our entrepreneurship curriculum. I work closely with TechTransfer, because that’s where any faculty or student has to go if they are working on something with commercial potential.

X: What are the student programs, and where do they fit into the Seattle innovation scene?

CB-S: We provide a curriculum for students. We have about 700 MBAs, and 88 percent of those take at least one class in entrepreneurship. I get asked the question a lot, how can you teach someone to be an entrepreneur? My sense is that you can’t turn anyone into an entrepreneur. But there is a type of person who is destined to be an entrepreneur. I usually say it’s a genetic defect. For those people … Next Page »

Rachel Tompa is a freelance journalist based in Seattle. She can be reached at rmtompa@yahoo.com. Follow @

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