Business, engineering, economics and communication students in Washington State University’s Frank Fellows Program learned you don’t have to have an Ivy League degree to land a dream job in one of the world’s largest technology centers.

Marketing major Thomas Weis tours Google Ventures
Marketing major Thomas Weis tours Google Ventures

Thomas Weis, a WSU Carson College of Business marketing major, attests to that. Last spring, he and 15 other Frank Fellows spent a week in Silicon Valley, meeting with executives from several venture capital firms, high technology incubators, and other companies to learn about what it takes to start and grow cutting-edge technology businesses.

Frank Fellows are a select group of business, engineering and communication students involved in the Harold Frank Engineering Entrepreneurship Institute, a 1-year program focusing on entrepreneurship skills. Students learn the basics of entrepreneurship through experiential learning activities, gain networking and professional experience in Silicon Valley, and collaboratively develop an entrepreneurial product.

Weis says the individual who stood out to him most during the trip was Samson Schulman, a sales representative from Pivotal, a big data division of the tech giant EMC. “Being a fellow marketing major from a state school, Samson’s ability to rise quickly into a tech-driven sales position reinforced my belief that a degree from WSU will allow me to be successful anywhere I go,” Weis says.

Frank Scholars enjoy the day at Google Ventures with WSU College of Business alumnus Danny Navaro.
Frank Scholars enjoy the day at Google Ventures with WSU College of Business alumnus Danny Navaro.

During the trip, Weis connected with Pivotal and Lockheed Martin, 2 Silicon Valley firms with sales and technology training and employment opportunities that interested him. “Every contact I made and the value of the networking opportunities I had in California cannot be overstated,” he says. Weis plans on working within the advertising, aerospace or tech industries before starting an MBA program.

Networking, alumni interaction encourage creativity.

Students visited 10 companies during the experience, including

Alumnus Brian Wise hosted an authentic Mexican feast for the Frank Scholars’ visit to B Wise Vineyard.
Alumnus Brian Wise hosted an authentic Mexican feast for the Frank Scholars’ visit to B Wise Vineyard.

Troy Carpenter, an economics major, says above all, he learned that one doesn’t have to necessarily start a company to be innovative. “You can be innovative and creative within existing companies to make them grow and become better at what they do,” he says. “I think people who are innovative within a company quickly become valuable employees.”

Additionally, students attended networking events at the Technology Museum of Innovation and B Wise Vineyards with WSU alumnus Brion Wise, and alumnus Ray Combs hosted the students at his home.

Monica Bomber, an engineering major, says she was most surprised by the number of successful Cougar alumni working in the Valley. She encountered Cougs in leadership positions at major companies such as Tesla Motors and Google. For her, the best thing about the experience was interacting with alumnus Danny Navarro, a global entrepreneurship marketing manager at Google Ventures. “Danny has pursued his passions, even if they didn’t always pan out,” she says. “His effort paid off, and now he is where he wants to be, and most of all, he is happy. I want to be at that point.”

Seeing what Cougar alumni do excited her about the future. “A chemical engineer is not limited to working in the oil or water industries. I can apply my skills and mindset to a career that makes me happy,” she says.

Cross disciplinary approach enables success

The Frank Fellows program is interdisciplinary and offers a sequence of short courses on entrepreneurship, paid summer internships with technology companies, and a year-long class focusing on the development of an entrepreneurial team project. The program culminates with the WSU Business Plan Competition.

Weis says the program allowed him to apply marketing, accounting, management and other business concepts toward developing an automatic cocktail machine as his capstone project. He and 4 other students formed the Salud! team and entered the machine into the Business Plan Competition, winning fourth place. “It was rewarding to see all of my hard work in the classroom applied to a real world challenge and drive my success,” he says.

Students toured PlugandPlay Incubator and observed the “wall of fame” listing successful companies.
Students toured PlugandPlay Incubator and observed the “wall of fame” listing successful companies.

“I don’t think any other program in engineering provides the exposure the Frank Fellows Program does,” says Bomber. “The program’s interdisciplinary nature is important to students’ success because engineers look at things differently than communication and business students. All of my projects would never have been half as good without their input. It has been amazing to work with other majors to produce something great.”

More about the Frank Fellows Program

The Frank Fellows Program was created by a $3 million gift from Harold Frank (’48 B.S. Electrical Engineering) which established the Harold Frank Engineering Entrepreneurship Institute in the Voiland College of Engineering and Architecture.

To learn more about the Frank Fellows Program for business students, contact Marie Mayes, director of the Center for Entrepreneurial Studies, at mmayes@wsu.edu.

To learn more about the Harold Frank Engineering Entrepreneurship Institute, contact Director Howard Davis at davish@wsu.edu.