WESKA participants collaborate on a group project. Photo by WSU Photo Services.

WESKA Forges New Ventures, Lasting Connections

By Scott Jackson

Now in its fifth year, the Carson College of Business’s weeklong entrepreneurial bootcamp, known as WESKA, continues to grow and create deep bonds between participants.

Open to graduate students of any discipline from across the WSU system, each day of the program is packed with activities including group discussions, a Shark Tank-style pitch contest dubbed the “Cougar Cave,” and informative sessions led by faculty experts on subjects like finance and management. According to Kevin Chase, an assistant professor of marketing who led a session on sales strategy, much of the programming is centered around providing nonbusiness students with practical skills and knowledge that will come in handy when they launch their own ventures.

“It’s exposing people that have maybe more of a technical background to a framework they can build on to bring their ideas to market,” Chase says. “A lot of entrepreneurs have really good ideas, but they don’t have any formal business training. They may not know about marketing strategies, financial management for startups, and things like that.”

“The WESKA program is a natural collaboration between the Carson College and the WSU graduate school,” says Debbie Compeau, Carson College interim dean. “Providing access to entrepreneurial knowledge for all WSU students is a great way to supplement their skills no matter their field of study, and it’s one of the core objectives of the business college.”

Associate Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Initiatives Arvin Sahaym, who leads WESKA each year, calls this approach the “labs-to-launch strategy.”

“Many of my students who graduated from WESKA have developed an entrepreneurial mindset. A few have started their companies and ventures in different industries,” Sahaym says. “It is possible. You can do it.”

Program has already aided successful ventures and continues to grow

Jofrey Raymond & Christina Charles (Courtesy photo)

WESKA’s 2023 class was initially slated to have 40 seats, but after 70 students from more than a dozen countries applied, that number was expanded to 46—the program’s largest cohort to date. Included in that group are four students from the Nelson Mandela African Institution of Science and Technology (NM-AIST) in Tanzania, and the dean of their School of Business Studies and Humanities, Liliane Pasape.

“Our partnership with NM-AIST has grown over the past 10 years because of the commitment of faculty on both sides to work together for the benefit of students,” says Jerman Rose, director of the Carson College’s International Business Institute. “NM-AIST student participation in WESKA has directly led to the creation of new businesses in Tanzania, a testimony to the impact of the program.”

This is the first year students from Tanzania have been able to attend since before the pandemic, but they are no strangers to WESKA. Husband and wife duo and WESKA alumni Jofrey Raymond and Christina Charles attended the event in previous years. They later founded BioNutra, a successful business selling science-backed nutritive powder products designed to promote health and ward off disease.

“They’re doing very well. When they started, the business was only making a little bit of money, so they couldn’t even afford to pay themselves salaries,” Pasape says. “At the moment, they’re profitable and are going to be able to pay themselves a salary from their business for the first time.”

The two have since debuted a sleek new website where customers can purchase their products, and they opened a store in a busy part of Arusha—the region’s largest city and a tourist destination. Their success also allowed them to purchase a plot of land which may find future use as a place to grow some of the ingredients they use in their products.

Charles credits her participation in WESKA as “the foundation of my venture into business.”

Connection with peers and professors is a key piece of the program

While the instructional aspects of WESKA are a central component of the program, students and instructors agree that working together with people from a wide range of countries and academic backgrounds is just as important.

“It’s exposure,” says participant Candace Chappelle (’15 MS). “We’re grad students; we’re in our little isolated spots, so it’s a nice time to meet other people, see how ideas can come together, and how you build off them.”

“Networking with different people is one of the big benefits,” says Sean Murray (’22 Mech. Eng.), who participated in WESKA last year. “It’s very valuable to know a whole bunch of people in a wide variety of areas.”

Murray says even after the program concluded, instructors he’d met during WESKA continued to offer help and advice.

Sahaym says the connections are deeper than professional once the program ends.

“We all come from diverse backgrounds—I mean, I can see 20 countries represented over here—but we leave as colleagues and friends forever,” he says.

WESKA was launched in 2018. The program is supported by Huber Chair’s funds. Professor Arvin Sahaym holds the Huber Dean’s Fellowship in Entrepreneurship. The chair and fellowship were established with funds from the estate of the late James Huber (’66, ’70) and his family. Huber was president and owner of ATCON Services, Inc. in the Seattle area and owned/co-owned other Pacific Northwest Businesses.