Innovation and Entrepreneurship

OMBA takes the Bend Venture Conference

The numbers have been crunched, the presentation decks prepared, and nerves are on high. Your carefully thought out idea is about to become reality…but only if you win. Welcome to the Bend Venture Conference.

img_8388

As an MBA student in the Innovation and Entrepreneurship track, I expected to be provided with insights into the start-up world within a classroom context. But when I found myself, only three-weeks into my MBA program, traveling to Bend, Oregon for my first venture conference I realized that the Oregon MBA exceeds expectations.

A venture conference is an event where ideas turn into actions. A little research on the Bend Venture Conference (BVC) website led me to expect a multi-day entrepreneurship-focused event and close to $1 million in prize money. The start-up companies were broken into three categories of competition: Social Impact, Early Stage, and Growth Stage. 15 founders were going to pitch their start-up ideas to groups of investors. And I was going to be part of it.

After arriving at the Tower Theater in Bend, my classmates and I got settled in for the first round of competition: Social Impact. Here, companies were formed around the idea of helping others. We saw presentations centered around water conservation, fighting human sex trafficking, and blood-borne disease diagnostic tools. To round out this philanthropic group, Rebekah Bastian, the Vice President of Product at Zillow took the stage as the key note speaker. Bastian discussed how she is leveraging her role at the United States’ leading online real estate marketplace to help end homelessness.

img_8391

The Early Stage competition kicked off Day Two. Here we saw six founders pitch their hopeful companies for three minutes each. Again, the company focuses varied. Anything from inner-tire suspension to rainwater collection systems to crowdsourcing apps could be found onstage. These new companies were competing for $15,000 and the vote was decided by the audience. I was amazed to know that my ballet could help the company I most believed in launch.

img_8434

The Growth Stage competition rounded out the conference. The five companies were seeking seeding funding, typically in the amount of 1 million dollars. These companies – like Cartogram, Hubb, and Outdoor Project – have all been around for a few years and the founders were practiced presenters. The keynote speaker for Day Two was Loni Stark, the Senior Director of Strategy and Product Marketing at Adobe and the co-founder of Stark Insider, a West Coast media brand. Stark shared her thoughts on the significance of digital on customer experience and marketing.

a80838a1-4bde-4f5a-85ab-2266cc59750b

As a future entrepreneur and hopeful starter-upper like myself, the face value of attending the BVC was obvious. It was a chance to see how entrepreneurs and investors were going to come together to bring the next big thing to market. I was able to learn impactful tips, like what to wear on stage, at what pace to speak, and how to stand while presenting. I was able to apply the business terms I have been learning in my MBA classes to a real-world application. But the most valuable lesson I learned at the BVC that it is always possible to turn your passion into your career.

There is little scarier than introducing yourself as a Master’s student specializing in innovation and entrepreneurship to a room of innovative entrepreneurs. There is a pressure to have that next million-dollar idea researched and ready. So when you don’t have it all figured out, it is easy to feel apprehensive. But the BVC showed me how to discover that million-dollar idea… Or at least where to start. Despite how varied the ideas presented on stage were, the theme was all the same: do what you love. Discover your passion and work within that space. And if no one is doing exactly what you want to, go out and build that company from the bottom up.

I had high expectations for the MBA program at the University of Oregon. But looking back at the connections made, ideas inspired, and knowledge grasped while attending the BVC with the classmates, I realize that the Oregon MBA is already exceeding expectations.

 

Written by Tess Meyer

Tess is a 2018 MBA in the Innovation and Entrepreneurship track. With a background in Psychology and experience managing extensive teams, she is passionate about driving human potential. Tess' aim is to enter career services where she can encourage sustainable career passion for clients and businesses alike. When she is not writing or studying, Tess can be found hiking, reading, or trying a new restaurant. Learn more on www.frombrowneyes.com.

Engaging Asia Part IV: Hong Kong

Just to recap, thus far on the trip we have experienced the organized chaos of Mumbai, the sparkly newness of Shanghai and the communistic tradition of Beijing.  Traveling to Hong Kong, in hindsight, is the culmination of all of these places.  The streets are packed and busy with people from all over the world intermingling and hustling from one place to another and exuded an attitude of capitalism and democracy.  Some buildings and attitudes were fresh and new. Finally, it was very much Chinese in appearance and language (I know they speak Cantonese over Mandarin, but the foreign feeling is the same).  If Shanghai is where the west meets China and Beijing is where the western attitudes conflict with China, then Hong Kong is where the west first engages with China.  There are strong sentiments reflecting British imperialism and they are joined with those of Chinese central planning.  It brought two worlds together wonderfully and was a great conclusion to the expedition.

In HK, I felt a stronger emphasis on the entrepreneurial ideas being applied in sustainable ways.   Our other visits ran the gambit in terms of size and focus.  From such conglomerates as J. Swire, which started out as a shipping company but has grown to an international conglomerate, absorbing multiple aspects of its individual supply chains and having a net zero impact strategy, to individuals like Edwin Keh and Lizette Smook who provided a wealth of knowledge over all aspects of business.  (On an aside, the places where we met these two individuals, the China Club and the Foreign Correspondents Club, were so historically important and prestigious that just being able to go in, let alone have a meeting with a member, was quite an event.)

The entrepreneurial community itself even had a large spectrum of opportunities.  We visited Cyberport which is a huge facility used to foster and create the next successful technology companies.  The great thing is that the technology was not limited to computers but digital art/media, telecommunications, and general digital tech as well. It was an accelerator and incubator and college campus all rolled into one and then put on steroids.  What made this even more interesting, was that it was a private company but the government owned a majority share.  Think on that one.  It had to delicately balance the needs of its shareholders with the needs of the government, which I am not sure always aligned.  It will be interesting to see what comes out of that facility in the future.  In addition to Cyberport, we also visited a smaller entrepreneurial incubator located near Central, Paperclip.  This had the more traditional focus and feel of incubators found in the US which highlighted the universal feeling of entrepreneurship.

Since Hong Kong has long been considered the financial hub of China, our trip was not complete without visiting a financial institution of some sort.  For our last meeting we visited Reorient, a startup investment bank formed by American and German expats.  This company is only three years old yet already listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. That is not a common occurrence.  While this was our last meeting and all of us were spent-emotionally, physically, and mentally-it was a fantastic finale in that it, for me at least, restored some lost trust in investment banks.  They emphasized the personal aspect of banking, which has been lost in recent years.  The bankers we talked to (including the CEO) were very open about personal and professional life in Hong Kong and were genuinely passionate about what they were doing.  They wanted to be successful, but not at the expense of carefully established relationships.  They had a deep understanding of not only where they got their money but also how.  Not to mention, the CEO had the best outfit of the trip.  Not many people can pull off pastel pink pants with royal blue and bedazzled house slippers.  It was awesome!

Final remarks: the Engaging Asia study tour will be an aspect of my MBA that I will never forget.  John Hull, director of our Business Innovation Institute, has said many times that one objective of the trip is to get students comfortable traveling overseas so when they have a professional job and the opportunity to go to Asia is presented, we can volunteer with confidence.  While it sounded really hokey before the trip, he was right.  Should I find an amazing company and have the opportunity to do work in Asia, I have complete confidence that I can go over there, not feel overwhelmed and jump right into my job.  I don’t necessarily have the desire to live over there for long periods of time, but a short assignment (6 months or less) would suit me just fine!

Written by Jenny Palm

Jenny a current Oregon MBA and Graduate Teaching Fellow in the Lundquist Center for Entrepreneurship. When she is not busy exploring how she can change the world, you can find her outside doing almost anything...especially finding that secret stash of powder on her skis! She has hopes to either help develop an awesome outdoor-oriented start-up or flex her organizational prowess in ski resort event operations.

Engaging Asia Part III: Beijing

After drinking the China kool-aid in Shanghai we headed to explore our second Chinese destination: Beijing.  So far on this trip we have traveled by plane and automobile, why not add a train?  The coolest thing about this train is it is part of the high speed rail system and travels at 300km/hr (about 186 mph).  Therefore the 819 mile trip took just under 5 hours.  Makes we wish we had something like that in the States.  Once we completed our entertaining train ride, we finally arrived in Beijing and could feel the difference from Shanghai immediately.  First of all, the air quality wasn’t the greatest but it wasn’t the worse it had seen, there was a welcome lack of heat and humidity, and there was a different attitude detected (more to be explained later).  Since we arrived in the early afternoon, we had the rest of the day to check in to the hotel and begin exploring our surroundings.  One really cool thing about Beijing is its hutongs.  These are small pockets of traditional Chinese buildings and neighborhoods that often do not have electricity.  Going in these is like stepping back in time.  Our wonderful fellow student and Beijing native, Dupree, showed us a great authentic Chinese restaurant in a hutong close to our hotel.  He probably went there at least three time to help different groups order.  The food here was absolutely amazing.  Served family style, we tried beef, chicken, pork, and tofu dishes that definitely set the bar for the rest of the trip.

The next day we were the ultimate tourists with visits to the Great Wall and Forbidden City.  The wall was, well, a big wall with amazing scenery.  Since the wall was built along the ridgeline of the mountains, you could either walk up the hill or take a two person chairlift.  All of us elected the lift.  We were able to walk for a few hours along the wall.  The weather was great and it wasn’t too busy.  To get down, we got to ride an alpine slide.  The only problem with the slide is the fact that the Americans (or at least the MBA students) wanted to go fast and there were lots of other people who didn’t share our same enthusiasm or who got too distracted taking selfies. This led to a few collisions between ourselves.  Thankfully we avoided hitting other people!  After all, we don’t want to be “those people.”  We made it down from the wall and headed to the Forbidden City. We passed Tiananmen Square, where the “so called incident” happened and entered the multiple courtyards of the city.  It was much bigger than I expected.  Since it was a main tourist draw, there was an increased presence of police and military personnel, not seen in Shanghai.  One could definitely feel big brother watching, especially when it came to internet usage.  Even using the VPN, accessing many of our regularly used sites was a challenge.  Anyway, after making it through the city and hiking to the Buddha statue in the adjoining park, Kate and I decided that we wanted to go shopping.  And, if you hadn’t guessed, that meant taking the subway to a big market where you could test out your negotiation skills.  Even though we went to a tourist market, I felt Kate and I got some good deals on our souvenirs.  This was the one time where my indecisiveness in purchasing was an asset!  Beijing, while definitely having a more organic and historical aura, felt just as safe as Shanghai.  This was good when Kate and I misplaced ourselves.  Now, I know what you are thinking…”isn’t being misplaced the same as getting lost?”  No!  We knew exactly where we were but not quite where that was in relation to where we wanted to be aka the hotel.  But after walking an additional 4 kilometers more then we should have, we arrived back to the hotel and promptly rewarded ourselves at the bar.

Beijing was not all tourism, we also had some very interesting meetings as well.  Our academic schedule started with a meeting from the US Embassy with representatives from the Department of Energy and the Department of State.  While the meeting started off a little slow, it picked up once our speakers got excited about our questions.  Seeing China from a US government perspective was one we hadn’t had yet so it was great to add another layer.  The biggest take away for me was optimism will get you through working in China but balance it with a healthy dose of cynicism.  There are also a lot of joint ventures between the US and China which give me hope for environmental issues.  We also met with AECOM, an architecture and engineering firm, Deutsche Bank, and the Bank of Tokyo.  DB was interesting as we met with a German expat working in a German based company.  He was able to provide yet a new perspective about how to do business in China.  He highlighted differences even between doing business in Shanghai and Beijing.  Since Beijing is the seat of the Central Government, its presence is more prominently felt.  Our visit to the Bank of Tokyo was our last one before we split from the Warsaw group.  They headed to Singapore for the last leg of the trip while, the rest of us went to Hong Kong.  This trip had been amazing up to this point, and knowing we were headed to our last stop was both sad and welcome.  But, thanks to a three hour delay in the Beijing airport, we were able to stay on the mainland a little longer and fully soak up the feeling that is China.

Written by Jenny Palm

Jenny a current Oregon MBA and Graduate Teaching Fellow in the Lundquist Center for Entrepreneurship. When she is not busy exploring how she can change the world, you can find her outside doing almost anything...especially finding that secret stash of powder on her skis! She has hopes to either help develop an awesome outdoor-oriented start-up or flex her organizational prowess in ski resort event operations.

Engaging Asia Part II: Shanghai

Whoever said that China is a developing country must use Shanghai to argue the opposite.  Coming from Mumbai, where extreme wealth is adjacent to extreme poverty and being the largest democracy in the world is a point of pride, Shanghai seemed to have the upper hand in the amount of development.  Perhaps it was where we were staying (Le Meridien on Nanjing Road).  (In case you were wondering this is the main road of all authentic high end shopping in the city.  Not quite my scene, but I divest.) Or the fact that with all the clean streets and flashing lights, I realized I was looking at the shiny new toy of a communist country.  The “hey look at this…and this…and this.  China rocks and is one of the cool kids now.  Yay!”  Now don’t get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoyed visiting Shanghai.  It was clean, I felt safe walking around alone at night, and from an architecture perspective the buildings were really cool.  There are not many skyscrapers in the US that look like a bottle opener or will have a neat spiral for over a hundred floors and only has 65% (or less) space efficiency.  But having many of my courses refer to India and China as both “developing nations,” the differences between Mumbai and Shanghai illustrated how large that developing spectrum actually is.

Like in Mumbai, we had some time to explore the city and play tourist.  Our red eye flight led to a tired first day in China.  I can honestly say that my whole concept of space is vary skewed.  With time and plane changes it took almost 12 hours to travel from Mumbai to Shanghai!  (It always looked so close on the map.)  However, unlike Mumbai, our tourist time was spread out through the time we were there.  We would have afternoons off or given more freedom in the evenings to explore the city.  The subway system was super easy to navigate which made exploring that much more fun.  I will say taking the faculty to a pearl market they have never been to where you had to negotiate your prices for the first time was quite satisfying.

Tourism and bargaining for treasures was not the only highlight of the trip, we did have some pretty cool meetings as well.  There was definitely a financial emphasis with this city with visits to Mapletree Investments, Qiming Ventures, and the Shanghai Stock Exchange.  There is a move to make Shanghai the financial hub of China rather then Hong Kong.  However, from a personal point of view, the best visitations were to the Weiden and Kennedy office (a creative marketing powerhouse originating from Portland, OR) and our lunch discussion with Rob Schmitz, the China correspondent for NPR (National Public Radio).  Rob was able to provide a perspective that both positive and critical of China as well as US business attitudes.  We could have chatted with him longer than the 3 hours we took up discussing topics ranging from pollution to government regulation to commonly witnessed business mistakes to how he arrived in China.  Having that journalistic perspective definitely made Shanghai seem more real and placed it in the view of China as a whole.

To sum up Shanghai, Rob Schmitz said it best, “it is where China meets the rest of the world.”  And when you meet someone new, you always want to put your best face forward.  Shanghai was just that!

Written by Jenny Palm

Jenny a current Oregon MBA and Graduate Teaching Fellow in the Lundquist Center for Entrepreneurship. When she is not busy exploring how she can change the world, you can find her outside doing almost anything...especially finding that secret stash of powder on her skis! She has hopes to either help develop an awesome outdoor-oriented start-up or flex her organizational prowess in ski resort event operations.