Connie Bourassa-Shaw, who spent nearly two decades helping the University of Washington grow its student entrepreneurial programs, is stepping down as director of the Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship this June.
Starting this summer, the respected leader will spend one year in a part-time role at the UW leading a new Masters of Science in Entrepreneurship degree she helped create, before officially retiring.
Bourassa-Shaw, who just turned 65, told GeekWire that she’ll miss training and educating the next generation of entrepreneurs at the UW, where she brought an entrepreneurial mindset to campus and helped launch successful programs like the UW Business Plan Competition and the Alaska Airlines Environmental Innovation Challenge while creating entrepreneurship-related curriculum and building connections with the larger Seattle startup community.
“Working with student entrepreneurs is probably the most fun you can have,” she said.
But now Bourassa-Shaw is ready to pass the leadership torch. She’s keen on finding a replacement who “loves students as much as I do;” can operate within a university environment; and can continue making entrepreneurship education available to all students across campus, not just those around the business school.
She called it the “best job at UW” because “you get to work with students who find you.”
“The students who are passionate about entrepreneurship while in college are the serial entrepreneurs who will start company after company,” she explained. “Those are the people who find us and who we get to work with. It’s totally cool.”
Jim Jiambalvo, dean of the UW’s Foster School of Business, told GeekWire that Bourassa-Shaw has been the “heart and soul of the entrepreneurship program at Foster.”
“Her outreach across campus to engineering, law, global health and other areas has created opportunities for wonderful interactions with business students,” Jiambalvo said. “We’ll miss her as the Center director, but I’m very thankful that she’s staying with us for the launch of our new masters degree in entrepreneurship program.”
Bourassa-Shaw said the new graduate degree for budding entrepreneurs is “something that’s been in the back of my brain for 10 years.” It’s a 12-month program focused on teaching the fundamental qualities of what makes a successful entrepreneur while providing access to the Seattle tech community. Bourassa-Shaw described it as a hybrid of a degree program and an accelerator — a more affordable option than earning an MBA that uses a curriculum that mimics the startup process.
“It fills a gap in the ecosystem,” she noted.
To those who say entrepreneurship can’t be taught in school and only learned through experience, Bourassa-Shaw said that “anything that can be learned, can be taught.”
“You can be an entrepreneur without learning the basics of accounting or how finance works or marketing, but it will take you longer, you will spend more money, and your chance of failure will be higher,” she said. “That’s why I think it’s so important we make entrepreneurship education available for any student in any discipline.”
Bourassa-Shaw said she’s happy with how entrepreneurship education has spread across the UW campus and hopes her successor can continue building connections with students and faculty from other disciplines.
“There are great avenues for Buerk Center to continue to grow and embrace parts of campus we haven’t reached out to,” she noted.
Leaders throughout the Seattle startup community lauded what Bourassa-Shaw has done for both the UW, now ranked as the world’s No. 5 most-innovative university, and the region itself.
“Connie is a terrific advocate for encouraging, educating and inspiring entrepreneurs,” said Matt McIlwain, managing director at Madrona Venture Group. “She has been at the center of so many elements of the Seattle-area innovation ecosystem and in particular the outstanding efforts made by the University of Washington to advance entrepreneurship and economic opportunity.”
Chris Devore, managing partner at Founder’s Co-op said the UW and Foster School wouldn’t have the reputation it has without Bourassa-Shaw’s contributions. Linden Rhodes, the former vice provost of innovation at the UW, called her “indefatigable.”
“Connie’s passion for entrepreneurship, and her conviction that it can be taught was infectious,” Rhodes told GeekWire.
Added Dave Parker, CEO at Code Fellows: “Connie was working on entrepreneurship before it was cool in Seattle. The startup scene in Seattle wouldn’t be what it is today without Connie’s belief that entrepreneurship is something that can be taught.”