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A team of students pitching for funds in the Creating a Company class. The purpose of this class is to help students start their own companies. (Photo by Anran Lin)

The Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship at the University of Washington is revolutionizing students’ classroom experience by offering a set of unique courses that place emphasis on more hands-on field learning.

“We want a visceral experience for students,” said Connie Bourassa-Shaw, Director of the Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship, said in a video about the project.

Bourassa-Shaw has spent nearly two decades helping the Foster School of Business at UW grow its entrepreneurial programs, from the newly introduced Masters of Science in Entrepreneurship, to the unique Creating a Company course that started in 1999.

In January, Bourassa-Shaw announced she’ll step down as director of the Buerk Center this June. Over the summer, she’ll help out with the Masters of Science in Entrepreneurship program on a part-time basis before officially retiring.

Out of the handful of entrepreneurial courses that the Buerk Center has to offer, Bourassa-Shaw said her favorite is the Creating a Company course series.

The course spans two quarters, during which students get to experience the full lifecycle of starting a business. In the first quarter, students are given 10 weeks to establish the fundamentals of their companies and perform market validations, and then use the second quarter to execute their business plans officially, produce their products or services, and make sales.

At the time the class was formed in 1999, Wells Fargo granted a $15,000 gift to the Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship to help teams in the Creating a Company class kick off their businesses.

“It is a truly once in a lifetime opportunity,” said Sam Tanner, a former student of the Creating a Company class.

Joe Chocolates sells handmade chocolates made from couvertures–chocolates that contain extra cocoa butter–with high caffeine content, and now can be found in more than 100 locations, including Bartell Drugs, Lighthouse Roasters and Fremont Farmers Market in Seattle. (Joe Chocolates Photo)

Tanner is also one of the two co-founders of Joe Chocolates, which came out of the Creating a Company class. After graduating in the Spring of 2016, Tanner and Peter Keckemet, his co-founder, decided to pursue their chocolate business.

“You never get the opportunity to create a company, receive funding, real money, build a team, and have class time devoted to actually making that work,” said Tanner.

Harsh Patel shared a similar view. Like Tanner, Patel’s business plan turned into a reality through the help of the Buerk Center’s Environmental Innovation Practicum class in the fall of 2016. Patel and his team founded Drop, which is a filtration machine that combines reverse osmosis and minerals to ensure quality water at a tenth of the price of a standard water bottle.

“The Buerk Center is where my idea became a reality,” said Patel.

With the support of the center, Patel and his team flew to Thailand in December 2016 where they sat down in the Thai Parliament with Nirunde Praditkul, Bangkok’s Metropolitan Vice Chairman, and discussed a potential collaboration between the Thai government and Drop to improve tap water safety in Thailand.

From left, Jared Praino, Harsh Patel, and Kaopod Chantapakul are the founders of Drop. The team will be competing as one of the 15 selected teams at the TigerLaunch event hosted by UW, and the winning team gets to compete at Princeton University, for a grand prize of  $30,000, in April 2017. (Vogt Lab Photo)

The Buerk Center hosts big competitions and challenges throughout the year. The most well-known competition is the UW Business Plan Competition, where students present their business plans to a broad audience for a grand prize of up to $25,000.

The UW Business Plan Competition has incubated many successful business stories, such as NanoString Technologies. Founded by a Foster MBA student, Amber Ratcliffe, NanoString Technologies won the first place in the Buerk Center’s Business Plan Competition back in 2003. Fourteen years later, NanoString Technologies boasts 200 employees and is listed on NASDAQ as a publicly held biotech company with headquartered on Fairview avenue in downtown Seattle.

Helping students take that extra step to reach beyond the boundaries of a classroom setting is the type of experience that the Buerk Center tries to foster, said Assistant Director Leslie Mabry.“There is something difficult to learn from a book, you have to experience it,” said Alan Leong, Lecturer of Management and Organization at Foster School of Business. “When you talk about building an entrepreneur, you’re really building a whole person.”

“There is something difficult to learn from a book, you have to experience it,” said Alan Leong, Lecturer of Management and Organization at Foster School of Business. “When you talk about building an entrepreneur, you’re really building a whole person.”

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