Microfinance in Africa: Profile of Five Talents International

30 05 2007

Originally published May 30, 2007 at dolechester.mbablogs.businessweek.com.

Microfinance, venture philanthropy, and social entrepreneurship have been generating good buzz for several years now, and I’ve learned a fair amount about the topics in the halls of Darden. But it wasn’t until last week that I actually heard eyewitness accounts of the successes of a microlending organization and connected real stories and pictures with small business loans, business training, and community development efforts in foreign countries. Read the rest of this entry »


Darden student videos

30 05 2007

Originally published May 1, 2007.

It’s a first in business school world – which means this is really innovative or really dumb, and I’m sure an audience poll will reveal a widely polarized opinion. Nonetheless, students at Darden are producing homemade marketing videos on YouTube promoting the school from our own perspective. I’d really like to see these merged with the “Learning Team Linebacker” skit (that’s right, Terry Tate style) from Follies.

For some background, our school has a student-run Darden Capital Management which puts select students in charge of a multi-million dollar investment account (which returned 13.7% last year, outperforming benchmark peers in each of its four fund types). In a similar effort to provide marketing-focused students with rewarding experiences, Darden Marketing Management launched the project to give students experience with a real marketing project with measurable impact.

Ventures and entrepreneurship: coast to coast – Part 2

30 05 2007

Originally published April 10, 2007.

Washington DC is a great city if you like a number of things: free museums, great public transportation, the federal government, perpetually losing sports franchises, and – surprise! – entrepreneurial ventures. While DC sometimes gets a bum rap for bureaucracy due to the inescapable presence of Uncle Sam, it turns out that the greater DC area has a strong and somewhat intimate venture community with a few distinguishing characteristics that set the city apart from its west coast peers. (In a spirit of full disclosure, I will be interning at a metro DC startup this summer.) I was able to learn more about the possibilities of starting a company in the DC area through a truly special Darden program called the Batten Venture Bootcamp, a three day drink from the firehose that draws students from MBA programs at Darden, Michigan, Maryland, and Georgetown. Read the rest of this entry »

Ventures and entrepreneurship: coast to coast – Part 1

30 05 2007

Originally published January 13, 2007.

There are a few hubs of venture capital and entrepreneurship in the world, but Silicon Valley is the undisputed king of them all. So, after dutifully finishing my Quarter 2 exams, I boarded a plane straight to San Francisco to check it out. Two other Darden students and I organized a trip for nearly 30 Darden students on a corporate and venture tour of Palo Alto, Mountain View, San Jose, and San Francisco. Some 14 companies opened their conference rooms (and fridges!) to us over the course of a week as we learned about companies at every stage of life – from startups that never made it, to the Google monster that’s eating Silicon Valley and the venture capital firms that finance and guide the whole thing.

In this Part 1 of my winter break reflections, I will offer some comments about the culture of starting new ventures in Silicon Valley to contrast with the comments of Part 2, which will reflect my experiences at the 2007 Batten Venture Bootcamp in the Washington, DC area.

First: Some insightful comments from a venture capitalist about working in venture capital. “Move to Palo Alto.” That’s career step number one for anyone hoping to make career inroads in the Mecca of venture capital. Read the rest of this entry »

Structuring innovation for success

30 05 2007

Originally published October 27, 2006.

Darden hosted a brilliantly funny man named Larry Keeley for a small forum on corporate innovation this week in what was one of my favorite Darden experiences thus far.  We let Larry know up front that his ability to draw a crowd was admirable since it was a) the start of a three day weekend for Darden students, b) at the same time as a presentation by Steve Reinemund, the CEO of Pepsi, AND c) going head to head with the Virginia Film Festival and a talk from Mark Johnson (The Chronicles of Narnia, Rain Man).  What a lineup.

(Photo of Larry Keeley, shamefully lifted from the Doblin website.)

Nonetheless, Mr. Keeley brought the house down in theatrical fashion, and his presentation originally slated for an hour and a half painlessly grew to two and a half hours plus as he wowed us with stories of innovation and modern marvels.  Mix two parts Stephen Colbert and one part Lewis Black, coat with innovation and design, and you’ll get Larry Keeley.  From the magic of Dell, who innovated everything besides the final product (until the acquisition of Alienware), to the enviable and highly profitable Mini brand created by BMW, to the most successful iinovators of our time (pharmaceutical firms), Mr. Keeley wove story after story of cutting edge innovation that stretched beyond the product line.  It’s no wonder he’s got so many stories to tell: he’s been doing this for 27 years.  Only recently though has innovation really landed square on the global business landscape, and in Keeley’s words, “It took 27 years for us to have an overnight success.”  Even still, he thinks innovation is just beginning to get good.  As he mentions on his Doblin consulting website (www.doblin.com), “since innovation fails about 96% of the time, it seems self-evident that the field has advanced to about the same state as medicine when leeches, liniments and mystery potions were the sophisticated treatments of the day.”   So it’s a good time to be in innovation management, and Larry Keeley is helping companies develop more disciplined, productive approaches to innovation that will lead them into the uncharted roads of value creation ahead.

Larry Keeley is working in a breakthrough confluence of business and design, teaching at the Illinois Instiitute of Design and the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern.  I’d like to see some of that work filter down to Darden and the University of Virginia, and potentially match up with the design wonks at VCU AdCenter, who recently scored huge in the Innovation Challenge global MBA competition.  Congratulations VCU!

Developments in wind and solar

30 05 2007

Originally published October 12, 2006.

The high-tech energy sector (which some would say is redundant) is really fascinating.  Nowhere else do I find such a tremendous confluence of global politics, high technology, excellent business, and the opportunity to introduce value to the entire world.  This same ethos has been exhibited by several energy companies visiting Darden recently, including Chevron, DuPont, and Intrinergy.

Two renewable energy news items caught my eye today.  The first was on the front page of the Wall Street Journal, highlighting Shi Zhengrong, the wealthiest private individual in China, who built his $1.7 billion ownership stake in two solar powered companies that are capitalizing on “first-world technology and developing-world prices” to solidify a very valuable competitive advantage in one of the most energy-hungry nations in the world.  That wealth wasn’t built overnight (as my dad likes to say), but rather came on the heels of a PhD in Australia, several successful patent applications, two solar ventures and at least one IPO valued at nearly half a billion dollars.  But for those of us looking to renewable energy for a better global future, there are some clear advantages to drawing on resources outside the US as manufacturing quality achieves outstanding levels and labor conditions rise to humane standards.

Another news item, this time in BusinessWeek, further emphasizes the advantages of looking for energy in non-traditional areas.  Even while oil companies make headlines for  deep seas discoveries and offshore rigs that avoid the political and physical safety challenges of land-based wells, one creative thinker is proposing that wind energy folks take a closer look at those offshore technologies.  Anchoring wind turbines offshore isn’t new technology, but constructing anchors in a sea bed under several hundred feet of water (i.e. far enough from land to avoid spoiling the regular horizon) is generally prohibitively expensive.  One idea bearing merit for further examination is floating anchors – using tension cables to anchor the floating base mounts for mammoth wind turbines, saving bundles on installation dollars and employing larger, more powerful turbines for great er wind energy returns.  I don’t know much about the physics of floating a torque-laden turbine in ocean currents and tides, but if it can be done this too holds great prospects for offshore wind.  The political and physical safety benefits of offshoring are assumedly similar to the oil industry as well, leading to greater stability in prices (which we all are grateful for).

As a parting shot, keep your eyes peeled for BusinessWeek’s MBA rankings to be released this evening.  Word has it that Darden, already a top recruiting destination for many energy companies, will be among the Top 10 in two discplines (Marketing and Finance), leading many of us to expect a Top 10 ranking overall.

Darden’s strategic outlook

30 05 2007

Originally published Sept. 28, 2006.

A brief spat of hail and a full afternoon of rain drove me off the golf course today, but it didn’t stop Darden Dean Bob Bruner from meeting with me and the other 65 students in the Class of 2008’s Section D for an evening reception.  In a room bedecked with shrimp cocktails, sushi rolls, chardonnay and longnecks, I had the good fortune to chat with the Dean about his strategic vision for Darden.

One of Darden’s most powerful traits is the quality of its teaching.  The faculty here are driven to build students into “future leaders in the world of practical affairs,” as goes the Darden mission statement.  As a studnet, this is one of my favorite features of the Darden experience.  Professors are here to teach, and they provide an outstanding classroom and co-curricular presence around Grounds.  To date, this has been a tradeoff against the quality and quantity of research coming from the faculty halls however.  Darden’s partnership with Good to Great author Jim Collins is leading us to embrace the “Genius of the And” – to achieve great research while maintaining top teaching performance as well.  (You can check the Darden BusinessCast after Friday, Sept. 29 for a podcast about Darden’s Good to Great partnership with Jim Collins.)

Darden is currently continuing a multi-year celebration of its 50 years of business education (2005 was the actual anniversary).  Dean Bruner provided a very inspirational message envisioning our Class of 2008 arriving at the 100 year centennial anniversary, where the school leaders of that age will look back on the people of 2006 and say, “They did something right.  They made smart choices, took wise risks, and succeeded in bringing Darden squarely into the global top ten business schools and a central feature of a lifelong learning environment.”


(Darden’s front steps: Saunders Hall)

We at Darden believe in the power of this school, in its dynamic teaching, in the rigor of the aggressive case method, and in the dedication of our outstanding Career Development Center.  We have a Dean with an inspiring vision to ratchet up Darden’s global image and performance levels, and students and faculty who love what this school is and what it can become.  If you’re ready to work harder than you ever have in your life, if you’re ready to make something more of your life and more of our school, if you’re ready to join us to lead throughout the world of practical affairs – then join us here at Darden.