Business Alliance ‘Bootcamp’ Puts Growing Companies through the Paces

Posted: January 30, 2006 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

Julia Strickland with Business Alliance
Julia Strickland, a member of the Business Alliance Board of Directors, networks at a Business Alliance event.

By Laura S. Jeffrey

An army of entrepreneurs and other business leaders is converging at the Reston Hyatt on Wednesday, Feb. 15, and the Business Alliance of George Mason University is leading the charge.

The troops are gathering for the Business Alliance’s third annual Bootcamp for Growing Companies and Entrepreneurs. Approximately 150 people are scheduled to attend the Bootcamp – which is really more of a strategic operation. They will learn how to land venture capital and other sources of funding, how to garner more customers in the commercial and government sectors and how to manage their operational challenges as they grow.

More than a dozen area CEOs will share their insights on these topics and also on new market opportunities in security, IT, telecom, life sciences and government contracting, investment forecasts and merger and acquisition strategies for 2006 and beyond.

“Connect. Learn. Grow!”

The Bootcamp is one of many signature events of the Business Alliance, which was established in 1988 as the Century Club. The original goals of the group were to enhance the educational experiences of students in the School of Management (SOM) by integrating business experience in the classroom and to provide support to local entrepreneurs through what is now known as the Mason Enterprise Center.

Perhaps the longest-running and best-known Business Alliance program is the Grubstake Breakfast. At this event, now held three times annually, entrepreneurs and small-business owners seeking up to $2 million in funding present their ideas to corporations, venture capitalists and investors.

Judy Costello, who has served as executive director since 1996, says the last survey of presenters, completed by a Mason student, showed that one in four of the presenting companies had received funding at some point after their Grubstake Breakfast presentation. Mason faculty and students regularly attend the breakfast. SOM Honors lab students now have the opportunity to earn course credit by working with Business Alliance Grubstake Committee members on the presenter coaching and selection processes.

Jim Wolfe and Judy Costello
Jim Wolfe, Mason’s entrepreneur in residence in the School of Management and Business Alliance member, talks with Judy Costello, executive director.

Over the years, the Century Club activities have expanded to include the School of Law, the School of Information Technology and Engineering, the College of Visual and Performing Arts, the College of Nursing and Health Science, the Department of Athletics and New Century College. In 1997, the group revised its mission statement to emphasize its role facilitating partnerships throughout the university, and last spring changed its name to the Business Alliance and adopted a new motto: “Connect. Learn. Grow!”

“Our new name and motto more accurately reflect our mission of sharing expertise between the business community and the university and the new opportunities that result from these connections,” says Costello.

University and Business Community Connections

Today, dozens of faculty and staff are active members of the Business Alliance. Technically, all full-time faculty and staff members, as well as students, are entitled to complimentary membership as George Mason University “partners,” Costello says. The Business Alliance also includes representatives from more than 80 business, government and professional organizations who regularly volunteer their time to share their expertise on campus.

Networking at Grubstake
The thrice-yearly Grubstake Breakfast provides an opportunity for entrepreneurs and investors to network.
Creative Services photos

The group’s board of directors includes 10 members of the university community who were appointed by Mason President Alan Merten. Nick Ruffin, vice president and branch manager of the investment firm Ferris Baker & Watts, is a past president of the board and member of the executive committee.

“Mason is Northern Virginia’s university,” he says. “It is important to the community in terms of educating students, but it is also important to the businesses. [The Business Alliance] is the way to get the business community involved with the university and the university out into the business community.”

Ruffin adds that in the past, his company has hired Mason students for internships as well as permanent positions. “We don’t have any Mason alumni as employees right now because they have gone on to better jobs. We’ve provided a stepping-stone to their career success.”

Julia B. Strickland, an alumna of Mason’s School of Law and an attorney with the international law firm Reed Smith, is also a member of the board of directors. “I wanted to give back [to Mason] in some way, and this is the best vehicle I have found to do so,” she says. The Business Alliance “really benefits businesses and it benefits the school to foster those relationships.”

The third annual Bootcamp for Growing Companies and Entrepreneurs will be held from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb.15, at the Reston Hyatt. The cost is $40 for George Mason faculty, staff, and students and $80 for the general public. Faculty entrepreneurs may attend at no charge if they reference a sponsoring school/department, though preregistration is required. For information regarding the Bootcamp speakers or registration, see the web site. For more information about the Business Alliance of George Mason University, see

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