David B. Thorud Leadership Award
Photograph of Connie Bourassa-Shaw


Director, Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship, Foster School of Business

Nominated by all staff members of the Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship

Awarded 2017

Connie Bourassa-Shaw is an administrative and entrepreneurial chameleon. She has adapted to situations as the need arose, filling a key role for the University of Washington, the Foster School of Business, and the city of Seattle as a champion for entrepreneurship. For decades, she has connected silos across this sprawling campus in the name of opportunity for students and staff. Her mind is steeled on the concept of collaboration. She is the rare boss who challenges those who work with her, for her, and around her in a way that elevates, inspires, and produces creative solutions.

Her decades of tireless work at the Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship as a fundraiser and change-maker extend far beyond the walls of the Foster School. Connie has recruited entrepreneurial titans to serve on our advisory board. Each is willing to share the magic formula with students to create successful companies in Seattle. In turn, the relationship between the city and the University grows stronger with each graduating class. At the same time, Connie has keenly imprinted the mission of the Buerk Center into the hearts, minds and classrooms of departments in biology, medicine, engineering, and more. That is the force of her personality and dedication.

UW graduate Jim Xiao (CEO of Mason) recently popped in to reconnect with the Buerk Center and walked away in awe. He told us, unprompted, “you usually need a long list of things to be a successful entrepreneur, but really, all you need is Connie.” Foster School Dean James Jiambalvo says Connie epitomizes the ideal of “hard work, dedication and selflessness.” And we, her staff, know that she fights for us, the university, and most important of all, the young minds who step through our door.

After all, Connie was a boundless spirit long before it became a core public mission for the University. Connie seeks out the pain points that are not being addressed and either finds a solution herself, or challenges her team to find the right kind of spark. In just the last ten years, Connie revitalized the entrepreneurship curriculum to empower students across campus. Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship competitions were made to mimic the real world with more coaching and engagement from serial entrepreneurs. The Lavin Entrepreneurial Action Program was created in 2007 to reach high-potential incoming freshmen of all disciplines and has grown every year.

While former vice-president Al Gore was working on An Inconvenient Truth, Connie was leading the push for the University’s first-ever Environmental Innovation Challenge. She developed the Jones + Foster Accelerator to create a runway for students who don’t just want to compete, but create a serious life for themselves as startup founders. She developed an Angel Investing class, highlighting the connection between UW and the unique and robust investing community in Seattle.

Connie secured a $5.2 million dollar endowment and naming gift for the Buerk Center in 2013. What many would consider a peak achievement only fueled her to seek more opportunities for students. Under her guidance, the Buerk Center helped launch the ENTRE Minor for non-business undergraduates the same year. The program continues to be a prime example of how inclusive the UW campus can be for students of all disciplines.

After all, that is what Connie does. She is intuitively able to create opportunities for students that balance academics with real-world experience. The Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship launched the Startup Job Fair in 2014 and opened the doors for hundreds of grads and undergrads across disciplines to interact with early-stage companies. Connie also created the Health Innovation Challenge a year later in partnership with the College of Engineering, School of Medicine, Department of BioEngineering, and Global Health.

Now, Connie has found a way to reach graduating UW students and early-stage entrepreneurs who know they are missing the business skills and knowledge to become a startup founder. Her solution: a new 12-month, daytime Master of Science in Entrepreneurship degree at the Foster School of Business that will launch in June 2017. The program represents an innovative new approach to graduate-level learning enhanced with practical experience. MS Entre combines highly focused coursework with the startup process. It is one more example of her two decades of service to UW and how she wants to transform the way entrepreneurship is seen on campus and off.

To know Connie is to know that it would be a waste of time to ask her if she deserves an award like this. She is too protective of her peers, UW, and the students to put herself first. Connie would likely fire back a challenge at you to find more important work to do; work that breaks down barriers and leaves no one out.

It’s the impact, not the recognition that fuels her and keeps alive her genuine, persuasive spirit. It echoes and reverberates across this campus and city. It fills the air with hope and encouragement.

What could be more deserving than that?

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