The University of Washington held an award dinner for its 20th Business Plan Competition on Thursday evening in Seattle. But it also doubled as an evening of gratitude toward the “heart and soul” of the university’s entrepreneurship program.
Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship Director Connie Bourassa-Shaw spent nearly two decades helping the UW grow its student entrepreneurial programs, including the well-established BPC, which this year featured 36 teams from 12 colleges and universities from around the state competing for more than $70,000 in prize money.
The love and admiration for Bourassa-Shaw, who is stepping down next month, was on full display Thursday at the Museum of History and Industry, where more than 300 people from the local tech community — CEOs, founders, venture capitalists, UW colleagues — helped celebrate her contributions and passion toward student entrepreneurship.
In attendance on Thursday were several movers and shakers from the Seattle startup scene — Techstars Seattle leader Chris Devore; veteran venture capitalist Geoff Entress; LiquidPlanner CEO Liz Pearce; Madrona Labs CEO Mike Fridgen — who joined folks like UW Foster School of Business Dean Jim Jiambalvo and Artie Buerk, the Montlake Capital founder whom the Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship is named after, at the dinner ceremony.
“Since Connie took the reigns, this program has exceeded expectations every year — and every year, expectations have been high,” Jiambalvo said.
Ralph Derrickson, chairman of the Executive Advisory Board for the Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship, also shared a few words on stage, as did his two predecessors Adrian Smith and Bill McAleer.
“She makes the magic happen,” Derrickson said. “She brings people together. She creates the stew and has the ability to stand back and let it happen. She doesn’t have to be in the middle of it.”
Added McAleer: “The passion she has for the students and this university is unparalleled to anyone I’ve worked with.”
Bourassa-Shaw shared the story of when she first arrived on campus in 1987 as a writer and editor of the business school’s regional magazine. A few years into that job, she wrote a story about entrepreneurship and realized that the UW needed to offer a program that helped students learn more about what it takes to create startups.
“I had a sense that this would be one of the best and biggest things that happens at the UW,” Bourassa-Shaw said.
But the 65-year-old said she had no “real knowledge of entrepreneurship” at the time, which made her stomach twist and turn at the thought of leading this new program. Yet she had a vision and went after it — just like a passionate entrepreneur would.
“I talked to my friend at the business school and she told me that if I didn’t have a stomach ache, I wasn’t thinking big enough,” Bourassa-Shaw recalled.
Bourassa-Shaw, who starting next month will spend one year in a part-time role leading a new Masters of Science in Entrepreneurship degree, is proud that she helped spread entrepreneurship education across the entire UW campus, not just with business students.
Growing the Business Plan Competition was another one of Bourassa-Shaw’s top accomplishments. In 1998, 57 students participated in the inaugural event, with three teams winning $15,000 in prize money. Fast forward to 2017, and 128 students from 12 different colleges and universities competed, with nearly 600 judges, coaches, and mentors giving their time to provide guidance and advice.
The competition has awarded more than $1.3 million dollars in seed funding to more than 165 student teams over the past two decades.
“The judges told me the quality of the teams this year was phenomenal,” Bourassa-Shaw noted. “It was really the best they’ve ever seen.”
We’ll have more reporting from the Business Plan Competition later today — Membrion, a maker of molecule filters, won the $25,000 first place prize — so stay tuned.