Innovator Article

MBA Students Get Fired Up at Ignite in Boston
Innovative Program Fuels Tomorrow’s Entrepreneurs

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By Alex Russell

While waiting for the first speaker at the 2012 Ignite Entrepreneurship Conference in Boston, UC Davis MBA student Nandhini Raghunathan scanned the on-screen testimonials from previous attendees. “By the end of the third day,” she said. “I could see what each and every one of those comments meant.”

Raghunathan and five fellow UC Davis MBA students joined students from Boston University, Baylor University and Rice University from March 1–3 for a whirlwind tour of Boston-area start-ups and venture capital firms, and to hear nearly 20 successful entrepreneurs share their stories.

“It was frenetic, really fast-paced, with a positive energy. You couldn’t wait for the next thing to happen,” said UC Davis MBA student Seth Stanton, who wants to get involved in venture capital.

Many of the speakers were young successful entrepreneurs—and recent MBA graduates—including Nicholas Seet, who earned his MBA from UCLA in 2005, and has since sold two companies, IntoNow to Yahoo, and Auditude to Adobe.

“You could feel they wanted to give back because they had a debt of gratitude to the people who mentored them at the beginning,” said UC Davis MBA student Robert Ryan, who joined IT consulting firm Gartner after graduating in June.

“Students related very well to these young entrepreneurs because it has been only a few years since they were in the same seats as the students,” said Brad Burke, who oversees the Ignite Conference as managing director for the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship.

The Graduate School of Management hosted the first Ignite Entrepreneurship Conference in 2011, which included a trip to Silicon Valley to visit Google, Facebook and Sand Hill Road venture capital leaders at Sequoia Capital and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.

Vanguard Ventures co-founder Jack Gill lit the Ignite flame, basing it on a similar Velocity Conference that he founded at Indiana University’s Johnson Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation in 2000. Gill is a professor in the practice of entrepreneurship at Rice University, lectures at Harvard Medical School and top business schools, and serves on the Graduate School of Management’s Dean’s Advisory Cabinet. He taps his vast network for Ignite’s itinerary.

“I learned the power and importance of good mentorship in the early days of Silicon Valley,” Gill said. “A great, new teaching methodology was born: live ongoing case studies told by founder-principals. Founders of companies such as Apple, Intel, Cisco, HP, Raychem and more provided inspirational storytelling, motivation and leadership, and pragmatic career counseling to aspiring young entrepreneurs. I have been practicing this teaching style for three decades and have seen firsthand the powerful impact it has.”

The UC Davis MBA students’ trip was made possible by Gill’s friend and fellow Dean’s Advisory Cabinet member Art Ciocca, chairman of The Wine Group. Ciocca generously contributed $10,000 for the students’ travel costs.

Burke said next year’s Ignite will probably return to West Coast. “It’s very attractive to go back to Silicon Valley every other year, because it is a hub of activity.”

Raghunathan realized that business school is a great time to launch a new venture. If it’s successful, you have a great new start-up to run, she said. If not, you have your MBA and that experience under your belt. “Everyone doesn’t want to act on ideas because they are scared of failure. I want to totally start something now.”

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