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Aug. 29, 2022

Burgess Institute kicks off new year with 2022­­–2023 Entrepreneurs-in-Residence

The Burgess Institute for Entrepreneurship & Innovation at Michigan State University announces its 2022–2023 cohort of Entrepreneurs-in-Residence. Eleven EIRs will be returning to complete their two-year commitment; one accomplished Spartan entrepreneur, Brandon Pollak, will be joining the program’s ranks.

Entrepreneurs-in-Residence serve as mentors and coaches, working closely with students participating in the Burgess Institute’s Discovery and Launch venture creation programs. This year’s cohort brings with them expertise, insights and a network that will fuel student success and assist them in bringing to life go-to-market strategies.

The Burgess Institute welcomes new EIR to 2022-2023 Cohort

The Burgess Institute announced the formation of the EIR program in 2020. With the program’s success, the team has grown from four members to 12 in 2022. This year, the Burgess Institute welcomes Brandon Pollak to the team.

Brandon Pollak (B.S. Political Science, ‘02) is a senior principal at Cityfi, a business advisory and government affairs firm. He possesses 20 years of experience as an entrepreneur, investor, startup executive and political strategist crafting creative public policy solutions to open emerging sectors and scale high-growth businesses. With a passion for ecosystem building, Brandon co-founded DC-based startup incubator and venture fund 1776, a global hub designed for companies tackling major challenges in highly regulated sectors. Brandon serves as an advisor, convener and connector between governments, institutions, startups and key stakeholders on bolstering the innovation economy.

Returning EIRs representing in 2022-2023 are:

Curtis Daniel III (B.S. Psychology, ’95) is co-founder and CEO of Patchwerk Recording Studios. Under Daniel, Patchwerk Studios has been the home to more than a dozen Grammy-nominated audio engineers and over 100 gold and platinum records. Patchwerk has also been the creative force behind several educational programs and music events, such as Music University, Weekend Workshops, I Do Music and R&B Live.

Jeff Ellman (B.A. Sales and Marketing, '00) has dedicated his career to helping people through life’s transitions. Ellman is co-founder of Urbanbound, a web-based application built to help people move to a new city, and Hireology, a technology platform that gives companies a structured hiring process. Ellman also co-founded Homescout, a residential real estate company that has since been sold to Coldwell Banker. In addition to the companies Ellman has co-founded, he serves as a board member, advisor and mentor to various companies and organizations.

Kelly Ford (B.A., Communications, '94) is a tech industry executive turned investor at Edison Partners, a growth equity firm focused on technology-enabled solutions in fintech, enterprise software, and healthcare IT sectors. Having never held a role that someone held before her, she is a veteran of high-growth emerging and established tech companies. As general partner and chief operating officer at Edison Partners, Kelly leads firm operations, investments in fintech and enterprise software companies, and is the pioneer of the firm’s Edison Edge value-added services platform focused on building and accelerating enterprise value for portfolio companies through operating excellence.

Stacey Marsh (B.A. Marketing, ’86) is the co-founder and former CEO of Flatout Flatbread. She lives by the simple words her father said to her, “Never wonder ‘what if.'” In 2015, she and Flatout Flatbread co-founder, her husband, Michael (B.A. Marketing, ’85), successfully sold their company to Lancaster Colony. Today, she enjoys giving back and helping young entrepreneurs bring their dreams to life.

Joshua Ogundu (B.A. Economics, '15)
is the CEO and co-founder of Campfire. Campfire lets you use your voice to talk about the photos in your phone, either to give more context behind a moment or tell a story about something you saw. Previously, he was a team lead on the Global Product Operations team at TikTok. Ogundu’s work led to the release of TikTok’s photosensitive epilepsy feature warning and toggle as well as TikTok’s age verification for their Creator Fund. He also led the accessibility product vertical while at TikTok.Ogundu has utilized his past experiences with his startup LykeMe, an identity- and interest-based social network that he founded while at Michigan State, to become both an advisor for CLLCTVE as well as a scout for venture capital funds. He is currently part of Acrew Capital's and Concrete Rose's Super Angel Program. 

James Pita (B.S. Computer Science,'07) is a Ph.D. in Computer Science, an AI scientist, entrepreneur and investor who has worked on and invested in AI-based solutions across industries. In 2013, he co-founded Avata Intelligence, an AI services company that was acquired by Procore Technologies in 2020. Pita's other notable accomplishments include numerous scientific publications, helping pioneer the field of security games, working as an Operations Researcher for RAND Corporation, and over a decade of experience working on AI applications for defense including the United States (US) Coast Guard, US Transportation Security Administration, and US Federal Air Marshal Service. He continues to work at Procore Technologies as a Principal Machine Learning Engineer and is an active angel investor.

John Rood (B.A. International Relations and Political Theory, ’05) founded Next Step Test Preparation, which grew from a two-person tutoring operation to a market leader in pre-health entrance exam test preparation before selling to private equity. Today, he is the managing director at Greenrood Holdings LLC, which invests in education and edtech businesses.

Sheela Sethuraman (M.A. Education Technology, '97) is the founder and CEO of CueThink, an application focused on improving math problem-solving and collaboration skills. She has over 20 years of experience building and implementing educational technology solutions in classrooms. Sheela was Project Director at Pearson Education, Director of Technology at CAST, and has been a member of various consortiums centered around education technology.

Amy Smith (B.S. Kinesiology and Exercise Science, ’97) is the Chief of Staff & Senior Director of Transformation & Operations at Indeed. She is responsible for investment management and talent development of the SMB product, technology, and engineering organization. Previously Amy served as the SVP of Product & Partnerships at Techstars, where she was responsible for the evolution of product service offerings for founders and partners. Before joining Techstars, Amy led product management at ZOLL Data Systems. She led a team of product professionals to deliver end-to-end integrated solutions to streamline and modernize the EMS and Fire first responder and back-office workflows through telemedicine, mobile and enterprise data management solutions.

Jun Wang (M.S. Industrial Mathematics, '04) is a seasoned Silicon Valley tech executive. He recently built and led a global org of software engineers, data scientists, and technical program managers for a top social media company. Before this, he ran product management and data science at a venture-funded startup in the fin-tech space. He has previously spent five years managing Google’s analytics and data science teams in Google Maps, Adwords and Google Payment. He started his career in risk management at HSBC after getting his master's degree in Industrial Math at MSU. Jun is a startup advisor, angel investor, and board member in his spare time, helping startups in various stages on business strategy, product management and technical topics around big data and machine learning. 

Jim Wirth (B.A. Accounting and Information Systems, ’89) is a co-founder and CEO at GiantMouse, LLC, and owner and CEO of Golden Gate Goods, LLC. Wirth started his career as a Computerized Information Systems Auditor at Price Waterhouse. He co-founded BASE Consulting Group in the San Francisco Bay Area, which merged with Knightsbridge Solutions before being acquired by Hewlett-Packard.

Bringing Value to Generation Will

Providing mentorship and encouraging professional networking, EIRs are chosen based on their expertise and deep connections within their respective industries. At the start of the semester, each EIR is matched with multiple student founders who have been accepted into both the Discovery and Launch venture creation programs. Each EIR is empowered to work with their assigned students across the academic year, helping them build their ventures toward market readiness. 

The Burgess Institute’s venture creation program, open to all MSU students, advances venturers through two phases: Discovery and Launch. Discovery presents students with the opportunity to build a business plan through researching, testing and strategic planning. Once student teams reach their tailored milestones within Discovery and are ready to take their company to market, they can apply for admission into Launch. The application process requires student venturers to pitch their startups to Burgess Institute EIRs, who, together with program advisors, decide if teams are ready to move forward. 

Lori Fischer, the Burgess Institute’s director of operations, reflects on the benefits EIRs provide for student experience.

“As student success remains our top priority, I am so excited to see the impact EIRs have on our student community,” said Fischer. “Every year, our EIRs are matched with students with similar interests and backgrounds. Working with likeminded professionals grants students the resources to build their startups and projects, as well as discover the reach of their potential.”

Last year, students used these connections to advance their entrepreneurial ventures and deepen their skillsets. Serving as venture coaches for the 2022 Burgess New Venture Challenge, multiple EIRs worked directly with student competitors, lending their personal experiences to benefit aspiring innovators at MSU.

EIR Sheela Sethuraman, CEO and founder of Cuethink, shared her learnings from experiences with students, including Siham Hassan. Hassan, student entrepreneur and founder of Foreign House, found working with Sethuraman invaluable.

“Working with Sheela has been incredible! She’s not only very helpful, but very supportive, understanding and believes in everything I am doing. It’s been an honor having Sheela as a mentor and I look forward to working with her as I continue to grow and develop myself and my brand.”

Christopher Sell, the Burgess Institute’s director of alumni and entrepreneur engagement, has made diversity a top priority when choosing this group of professionals. Alumni in consideration for this critically important role were chosen based on their respective industries, professional accomplishments, geographic connectivity, and emerging or continued interest in supporting entrepreneurship education at MSU.  

“It’s important to have this group of professionals mirror the diversity we see on Michigan State’s campus and the community across our venture creation and academic programs. We want to make sure we bring forward a group of alumni who collectively represent the best of the Spartan Nation in an authentic way.” 

The Burgess Institute continues to spearhead entrepreneurship and innovation in the academic space. Since the inception of the EIR program, its goal has been to provide student venturers with a strong foundation of mentorship and collaboration with experts. The continued growth of the program will set the 2022–2023 EIR Cohort on a trajectory to further drive student success.

This story originally appeared on the Burgess Institute for Entrepreneurship & Innovation website

By: John Hart

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