A Powerful Pedagogy
Entrepreneurship creates hope. I experienced this when I taught youth on the coast of Kenya how to create and implement business plans as part of a program run by the U.S. Department of State in 2013. The program aimed to empower and encourage youth by giving them the tools to create businesses. When students worked on their plans for motorcycle repairs shops or medicine-delivery services, I noticed their sense of purpose and excitement rise.
I’ve seen this same excitement in SPU students as they’ve developed and implemented business plans for the Social Venture Plan Competition or as part of the Entrepreneurship minor. Entrepreneurship is a natural expression of our faith as we desire to contribute to the shalom of the world through business-based solutions. Developing an entrepreneurial ecosystem — which includes a myriad of courses and resources — is part of our high-impact learning experience at SBGE. It’s powerful for our students to engage in entrepreneurial thinking and to tap into their deep-seeded human traits of creativity and innovation.
I hope you enjoy this issue about entrepreneurship and that it inspires you in your own entrepreneurial endeavors.
By Kate Barker, Associate Director, Center for Applied Learning
In the Center for Applied Learning (CAL), we see entrepreneurship as essential to the development of imaginative creators who bear the image of an imaginative creator.
I first grew into this theological idea of entrepreneurship as a professional cellist involved in a variety of community, educational, and cultural settings. The intersectionality of human development, creativity, and culture-formation seeded my motivation, which later led to co-creative initiatives here at SPU. I taught “Music and Entrepreneurship” and “Financial Tools for Musicians” with CAL staff members for SPU’s music department. These classes were part of a professional development sequence for music majors and are just one example of many at SPU where entrepreneurship is more than a shared language across disciplines; it is an intrinsic necessity.
CAL cultivates entrepreneurship as a transdisciplinary professional skill through a robust ecosystem of programs — the Social Venture Plan Competition, Innovation Lab, Launch Fund, and a partnership with PRAXIS. These programs equip students with the experience, coaching, and even some financial support to develop businesses that meet needs both locally and globally.
PRAXIS Academy is a weeklong communal learning experience for Christians interested in entrepreneurship. Senior accounting major Jacky Chen attended the academy on an SPU scholarship.
When asked about his experience, Chen said, “Everything in PRAXIS Academy was worth my time and energy. The speakers were encouraging us to walk on the path with God and trust him in dark times. [It gave] a brand-new scope on how you can view the world and be a successful entrepreneur without being corrupted or harming others.”
The Social Venture Plan Competition brings together teams of students from diverse disciplines to develop entrepreneurial projects that address a social need with a business model. Cash prizes are awarded to winning teams. Senior business administration major Nate Canny said, “SVPC gave me an opportunity to be creative, grow professionally, and learn how to impact lives beyond the surface level.”
Through these programs, we see students using their God-given creativity and developing the necessary skills to navigate the dynamic professional landscape of the future. It is a joy to be on this journey with them!
Q&A with John Godek
John Godek, associate professor of management, is responsible for one of SBGE’s newest resources to help young entrepreneurs. The Innovation Lab offers students one-on-one coaching with Godek, who is a successful entrepreneur himself. We talked to Godek over Zoom about entrepreneurship at SPU.
Why did you think an innovation lab was important for SPU?
We had the Social Venture Plan Competition already, which focused on using innovative ideas to solve social problems. I’m interested in that, but there wasn’t a lot for people who were interested in the for-profit side of things or the traditional side. The Innovation Lab is a consulting lab where I’m available to use my insights and help connect students with resources.
What goes into having an entrepreneurial mindset?
If you’re going to be an entrepreneur, you must be willing to live with a lot of risk and uncertainty. You have to break out of the human norm of uncertainty-avoidance. We like the familiar. We like what we can see. We like to know what’s certain. You have to be able to stretch out and say, “I’m going to try something different.” You have to do it in a purposeful way. I’m not going to do random trial and error. I’m going to do my research, see what might work, and then I’m going to take a leap of faith and try it. It’s controlled risk-taking.
Why is entrepreneurship an important skill for students to learn regardless of whether they start their own venture or work for an existing company?
It’s all about coming up with innovative ways to solve problems. Almost every company out there must continually innovate, and that’s what entrepreneurship is all about. It’s about looking for how we can do things better.
Senior Bonnie Tran is the model entrepreneurial student. Not only has she taken advantage of every entrepreneurial resource at SPU, but she also has a team ready to launch a career-coaching business in Vietnam after graduation.
“I love how supportive SPU has been throughout my journey here,” she said. “Professors are so caring and my classmates are so open-minded. It’s helped me understand who I am.”
She’s started an entrepreneurial club, competed in the Social Venture Plan Competition three times, received two grants from the Launch Fund, attended PRAXIS Academy twice, and regularly met with John Godek, associate professor of management, in the Innovation Lab.
“She’s really gung-ho,” Godek said. “She asks questions. I give her stuff to do. She acts on it, sees how it works, and comes back next week.”
Tran grew up in a home with domestic violence present and always wanted to own a company to gain independence. “As I grew older, I realized that making money wasn’t the only thing I wanted,” she said. “I want to make a difference in the world and help others.”
Tran’s first company, Volare, was a career-coaching business for fellow international students. She met with Godek about the business and received a launch grant to get a career-coaching certificate. The Volare testing phase went well, and then COVID changed VISA regulations and made launching impossible. Tran was devastated. “I felt so defeated and worn out, but I knew this was my passion, and I didn’t want to give up.”
Tran came up with the idea of doing a career-coaching business in her home country of Vietnam. She received another launch grant for marketing and has gathered a team of four others. She plans to launch in the summer or fall of 2022 in Ho Chi Minh City.
“Now I’m happy I failed the first strategy so I can have a new strategy,” Tran said. “Our ultimate goal is to help people create life satisfaction through finding meaningful work.”
“THERE AND ENOUGH” FILM EXPLORES TECH STARTUP CHALLENGES
Sonny Vu and Christy Trang Le, the husband and wife co-founders of Misfit Wearables, have had their faith tested as entrepreneurs. Relying on their faith, they helped build up a company founded on servant leadership, as well as Vietnam’s emerging R&D talent.
ALUMNI: LESSONS FROM THE TRENCHES
We caught up with two alums — Joshua Russel ’09 of Simple Dry and Christopher Haylett ’15 of Sixpence — who shared some of the victories and challenges of starting their own ventures.
Joshua Russell, ’09
Director of Sales and Business Development, Co-owner of Simple Dry
BA in Business Management and Entrepreneurship, Seattle Pacific University
You’ve probably thrown away hundreds of little packets from shoeboxes or snack foods that say “Do not eat.” Those packets contain silica gel beads, calcium chloride, or other desiccants to eliminate moisture and keep products from spoiling. Larger packets of desiccants are also found in trucks and shipping containers.
According to Joshua Russell ’09, it’s time to find a more sustainable solution.
“It’s a dinosaur industry,” Russell said. “The same product has been used for 100 years.” Russell is a co-owner of Simple Dry and hopes to eliminate a billion silica gel packets from landfills with their desiccant made from recycled paper. It’s coated with a patented solution, is currently in millions of products, and is printed with recycle arrows instead of “throw away.”
Russell was a Social Venture Plan Competition winner during his time at SPU with a potato chip brand called “Olive Only.”
“Doing the business plan over the course of the year and competing in SVPC was, bar none, the best value I got at SPU. It made starting a business less intimidating than it would have been.”
Since graduation, he’s worked in sales and started an investment real estate company with his parents. He bought into Simply Dry more than a year ago. Building the company during a pandemic has had its share of challenges, such as sourcing recycled paper when cardboard boxes are in such a high demand.
“It’s definitely been an uphill battle,” Russell said. “You have to focus on the good. Every time I think about quitting, I go back and look at our successes.”
Despite fears and setbacks, Russell continues to believe that Simple Dry can have an impact on eliminating both waste and the harm to children and pets who choke on traditional desiccants every year.
“Everyone’s been given a gift from God. For those who have a gift of entrepreneurship and creative thinking, it is a natural expression of faith,” Russell said. “I don’t think entrepreneurship is for everyone. However, for those who have a natural bent for it, there is the potential to do great good.”
Christopher Haylett ’15
Founder of Sixpence
BA in Global Development, Seattle Pacific University; MS in International Business from Hult International Business School
Christopher Haylett does not like the American myth that a tech startup is a quick ticket to success.
“We’ve run out of money three times, and each time God has stepped in providentially and provided,” he said.
He once attended a conference in Lisbon, Portugal, while contemplating ending his church-giving platform, Sixpence. While there, he met a Christian businessman from New York who invested $100,000 in the company.
“There are 17,000 people there, and I sit next to the one person who’s a right fit,” Haylett said. “I never take for granted the journey of starting an enterprise as a person of faith. It’s like walking across a river with stones coming up just as you’re about to step. As long as God keeps making the next stone appear, I’ll keep walking.”
As a teenager, Haylett wanted to go into missions, and as a student at Seattle Pacific he realized he could also serve God in business. During that time, he struggled to raise financial support for a mission trip to Kenya and imagined a platform that would round up purchases to the nearest dollar and donate the change. When he attended PRAXIS Academy, he started to put the pieces together for what later became Sixpence.
At graduate school, Haylett met his three business partners, who have helped the app in its various iterations from benefiting individuals, to schools, and now churches.
Sixpence isn’t just about raising money. It’s also a way to teach Christians how to incorporate their faith and finances, an experience they call “connected giving.”
“We really want people to stop thinking about dollar signs,” Haylett said. “Let’s frame the conversation toward this journey of participation, growth, and discipleship together. What can we accomplish for the gospel if we are all a giving community?”
APPLY FOR OUR ONLINE MASTER’S DEGREE IN DATA ANALYTICS
If you love data and analytics and are looking to take the next step in your career, apply for our Master of Science in Data Analytics in Business (MS-DAB). The degree can be completed at your own pace — online or in the evenings on campus. Request more information today.
Security expert addresses SPU community
On Oct. 27, General Barry McCaffrey spoke on “Challenges to U.S. National Security” for the Distinguished Speaker Series. McCaffrey is a retired U.S. Army four-star general who is a national security and terrorism analyst for NBC News. He has served on the board of directors of public and private companies involved in health care, advanced technology, engineering design, and global services.
Welcome Joann Flett
We are delighted to announce that JoAnn Flett is the new executive director for the Center for Faithful Business (CFB). Flett was a 2019–20 Fulbright Teaching Scholar to Trinidad and Tobago, where she introduced a graduate-level course on social entrepreneurship at the University of the West Indies. She also helped advise and catalyze the formation of the Entrepreneurship Hub (E-Hub) at the request of the U.S. Embassy Public Affairs Office. The E-Hub is now locally run and led, and she continues to advise its team virtually. She is a frequent speaker, collaborator, and organizational consultant who teases out the intersection of faith and business that promotes human flourishing.
Nancy Buffington Lucks
Nancy Buffington Lucks, a friend of Seattle Pacific University and a former Washington state senator, passed away peacefully on April 15, 2021. She was a phenomenal leader and trailblazer who had a significant impact on the School of Business, Government, and Economics.
In 1984, Buffington Lucks was appointed to the SBGE Executive Advisory Council. In 1996, she started the Mentor Program as part of the Center for Applied Learning (CAL), which she co-founded and directed until June 2002. The Nancy Buffington Lucks Applied Learning Endowment was established in 1999 and currently distributes over $11,000 per year in scholarship aid. Read more about her life of innovation and service in her Seattle Times obituary.