Connie Bourassa-Shaw: the Foster School’s “Catalyst of the Century”

While leading the Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship for nearly two decades of its 30-year history, Connie Bourassa-Shaw became an essential nexus of the region’s thriving entrepreneurial community.

Her ability to create forward motion and accrue critical mass is legendary at the Foster School of Business. Connecting with serial entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, angel investors, students, faculty and her talented team, Bourassa-Shaw built a center that attracts innovators from across campus—and around the region.

“Connie is a terrific advocate for encouraging, educating and inspiring entrepreneurs,” said Matt McIlwain, managing director at Madrona Venture Group, in a 2017 Geekwire article. “She has been at the center of so many elements of the Seattle-area innovation ecosystem and in particular the outstanding efforts made by the University of Washington to advance entrepreneurship and economic opportunity.”

Connie Bourassa-Shaw with student organizers of the first Dempsey Startup Competition (formerly known as the UW Business Plan Competition).

Bourassa-Shaw bridged the many eras and names of entrepreneurship at the UW, from the original Program in Entrepreneurship and Innovation (founded in 1991) to the Center for Technology Entrepreneurship (2000) to the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (2005) to the Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship (2013), after brokering a transformational gift from longtime supporter and advisor Artie Buerk (BA 1958).

Under her leadership, the Buerk Center became as entrepreneurial as its mission, launching a steady stream of new competitions and courses and programs and partnerships and initiatives.

Bourassa-Shaw became an essential catalyst of entrepreneurship around the UW and the Pacific Northwest.

Among them: the New Venture Practicum (1998), the Dempsey Startup Competition (1998), the Creating a Company course (1998), the Technology Entrepreneurship Certificate (1999), the West Coast Research Symposium (2003), Venture Capital Investment Competition participation (2006), the Science and Technology Showcase (2007), the Lavin Entrepreneurship Action Program (2007), a Social Entrepreneurship course (2007), the Environmental Innovation Practicum (2008), a formalized licensing partnership with UW CoMotion (2008), the Alaska Airlines Environmental Innovation Challenge (2009), the Jones + Foster Accelerator (2010), the undergraduate Entrepreneurship Option (2011), Prototype Funding Awards (2011), the Angel Investing course (2012), the Entrepreneurship Minor for non-business undergrads (2013), the Startup Job Fair (2014), the Health Innovation Practicum (2015), the Hollomon Health Innovation Challenge (2016), the Master of Science in Entrepreneurship Program (2017)—which she helped launch before her retirement later that year.

Bourassa-Shaw’s impact was indelible, her legacy limitless.

At the Foster School’s 2017 Centennial Leadership Celebration, she was named the school’s “Catalyst of the Century.”

Connie Bourassa-Shaw, with her team, brought energy and fun to entrepreneurship education.

Earlier that year, she was selected unanimously to receive the University of Washington’s David B. Thorud Leadership Award.

The entire Buerk Center team nominated Bourassa-Shaw for this lofty honor. “For decades, (Connie) 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,” they wrote. “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.”

Bourassa-Shaw also received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2019 Angel Capital Expo for her “meaningful, lasting impact to the ecosystem.”

She’d be the first to deflect such recognition to her team.

The extended Buerk Center team celebrate Bourassa-Shaw’s final entrepreneurial competition at the helm of the Buerk Center.

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

This inspiration lives on in the Buerk Center, now led by Bourassa-Shaw protégé Amy Sallin and continuing to innovate around emerging demands and opportunities to make the Foster School one of the world’s top destinations for entrepreneurial education.