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UC Davis MBA Students Get Fired Up at 2012 Ignite Entrepreneurial Conference in Boston
Dean's Advisory Cabinet Member Jack Gill Hosts Mentorship Program

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 personal 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 has a healthcare background and plans to get into venture capital during his career.

Many of the speakers were young and successful entrepreneurs—and recent MBA graduates. Nicholas Seet, who earned his MBA from UCLA in 2005, has since sold two companies, first IntoNow to Yahoo, and then Auditude to Adobe. Jeff Mullen, who has a Carnegie Mellon University MBA and a J.D. from the New York Law School, founded Dynamics Inc. in 2007. Mullen’s firm produces next-generation payment cards, and has raised more than $40 million in venture capital investment.

“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 Robert Ryan, a second-year UC Davis MBA student who has a background in biotech and medical diagnostics and has accepted a consulting position with Gartner.

Ryan said the speakers were generous with their time, staying after to answer questions from students about their start-up ideas. “It was really intimate. And that made the interaction that much more special and meaningful.

“Your mind was firing on all cylinders”

“When you had a little bit of down time, your mind was firing on all cylinders,” Ryan said, adding that Ignite made him realize the key is pulling together the right network of people with the right experience, not just his expertise. And, it’s possible to follow the dream of launching a start-up and still keep a full-time job. “It’s a lot of hard work but it’s still doable.”

The UC Davis 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, modeling 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 speakers and company tours.

“Jack Gill was the catalyst for this whole thing. He was absolutely hands on,” said UC Davis MBA student Stanton. “He had lunch with all the students in the room.”

“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, etc. 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 to Ignite was made possible by Gill’s friend and fellow Dean’s Advisory Cabinet member Art Ciocca, chairman of The Wine Group, who generously contributed $10,000 to underwrite the students’ travel costs.

Ignite’s Secret Sauce

Brad Burke, who oversees the Ignite Conference logistics as managing director for the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship, said part of Ignite’s secret sauce is that some of the speakers are young entrepreneurs who are still on the path for the success of their fist company. “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.”

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, who has technology and banking experience, realized that business school is a great time to try 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 the start-up experience under your belt.

“Everyone doesn’t want to act on ideas because they are scared of failure,” she said. “I want to totally start something now.”


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